Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice

A fundamental human right for First Nations people.

Meet Rosemary Wanganeen

Transforming Aboriginal disadvantage into Aboriginal prosperity.

Aboriginal Suicide Prevention

Through the Lens of Griefology

Presented by: Rosemary Wanganeen
November 7th – 9th 2023
Adelaide, SA

Dear Migrants, who are undecided

As a proud Aboriginal woman, I am here to appeal to your humanity.

This is a heart-felt letter written from me to you who could be still undecided, come October 14th.

With 30-years experience as a Griefologist and a proud Aboriginal Kaurna and Koogatha woman who’s voting ‘Yes’, I stand before you, appealing to your humanity. Griefology is a newfound therapeutic model that I developed for people of all cultural backgrounds because loss and grief is a human experience, that doesn’t shame, blame, demonise, vilify or discriminate.

Traditional culture: Our ancestors had been thriving as a complete civilisation for over 60,000+ years and each 250 First Nations groups were governed under 250 constitutions of their own making – there was never one constitution!  I need to believe, our ancestors were the Keepers of Humanity, in so doing, they never committed wholesale violence upon each other or people around the world because they never had the desire to or means and resources.

1788 an invasion/colonisation ‘arrives’: It was just a matter of time, that this ‘man-made’ Aboriginal disadvantage had taken hold and has not lost its grip. My letter is also to the descendants of 1788 and I know the powers to be and their convicts, some as young as 10-years old, were ‘transported’ humanely to serve out their sentences to a continent that wasn’t ‘terra nullius’.  Many never left by choice and those who didn’t have the means and resources to leave and today you are their descendants.  Then migrants followed and this letter is to you who are their descendants and to those who have arrived more recently.

Here we are, in the 21st century at a T Junction signposted as ‘Vote Yes’ or ‘Vote No’ to amend our Constitution to recognise us as First Nations people and provide a Voice to Parliament as an advisory body to our government. As Australian migrants who still might be undecided, your voice and vote is essential. It is even more essential when you feel that this is simply a fundamental human right as First Nations peoples, to be recognised and to use our voice to speak up on our own behalf, like we’ve never had the right to do before.

I understand the layers of grief fears many of you might be feeling if you vote ‘Yes’ because something of this magnitude has never been put to the Australian people since the Australian Constitution was executed in 1901: Section 51 (xxvi) gave the Commonwealth power to make laws with respect to ‘people of any race, other than the Aboriginal race in any state, for whom it was deemed necessary to make special laws’; and Section 127 provided that ‘in reckoning the numbers of people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of  the Commonwealth, Aboriginal natives shall not be counted’.  This meant that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were not recognised as part of the Australian population.  How we were written-up in the constitution makes sense to me when you read below the 1911 Aborigines Act (SA) that states Aboriginal people were considered a ‘dying race’!

Today, as I reflect on the last 235 years, it seems to me, we’ve never ‘asked for much’.  We’ve asked, yes and some would say, ‘we’ve begged’ for our basic human rights to be recognised, but yes, we all know, not like this, where we are seeking recognition in our Constitution!  Hence why I’m writing to you, offering an olive branch, in a different form.

In both camps, grief fears of anticipatory loss – what if we lose, have risen, exponentially into two ‘camps’: the ‘No’ campaign with its political rhetoric and the ‘Yes’ campaign with its humanitarian standpoint.  The olive branch is to encourage you to put your personal faith and trust in us as First Nations peoples and sit with us, in the Yes camp, in the hope you won’t want to leave us. It is my hope, my humanitarian standpoint will help you ‘see, feel and hear’ we are simply human beings sitting behind the political rhetoric.

It seems to me the disproportionate grief fear coming from the ‘No’ campaign, is catastrophising worst-case scenarios of what we’ll do, with our voice, compared to what the humanitarian standpoint is wanting to bring to First Nations peoples lives and our future generations.

I have a responsibility to use my voice to shut down, as much as I can, the ‘No’ campaign’s inhumane statements that  ‘colonisation didn’t have an impact on Aboriginal people’ or that it had a ‘positive impact’. At what stage, in their lives could my fellow Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians have misplaced their humanity to espouse such inhumane myths, misconceptions, stereotypical views which amounts to misinformation to shame, blame, vilify to dehuminise First Nations peoples’ true history and personal and tragic stories?

Let me share with you the four significantly inhumane policies that have had an negative impact, not just my life since I was born in 1955, but untold numbers of First Nations people directly or indirectly (intergenerational).  I was born into the following:

  • 1911 Aborigines Act – this Act intended to ‘protect’ Aboriginal people, considered a dying race. But it segregated many Aboriginal people and co-located them onto missions and reserves away from non-Aboriginal people.
  • 1934-39 Use of ‘Exemption Certificates’ – This certificate granted Aboriginal people an exemption from the Aborigines Act (1911) only upon rejecting that person’s Aboriginality. It became increasingly common, and they were often very divisive in Aboriginal society. Once exempted, the person was not allowed to ‘consort’ with un-exempted Aboriginal people other than immediate relatives, and then only with many restrictions.
  • 1951 Assimilation Policy – This new policy of ‘assimilation’ stated that all Aborigines were expected to eventually ‘attain the same manner of living as other Australians and as members of a single Australia’. Aborigines were expected to adopt the same customs and attitudes as white Australians.
  • 1967 Referendum – I was 12 years old before being counted on the census.
  • Stolen Generation – In 1964, I became a part of the Stolen Generation and experienced every form of violation.  ‘Between 1869 and 1970, the Australian Government forcibly removed First Nations children from their families in a period in history known as the Stolen Generations. This dark period in Australian Civil Rights history saw many of these children fostered out or adopted by white families, or brought up in orphanages, homes, or other institutions run by governments, churches, and welfare bodies.’

Has our world changed for the better following the cessation of these abhorrent policies – yes and no! Between 1971 and 2023, First Nations politicians entered and left the Australian state and federal parliament like a revolving door. When there, they do their best to fight and campaign for First Nations peoples. Yet here we are in 2023, and Aboriginal disadvantage is not only still evident, it has escalated since my time in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody ceased in 1991.

Why is this, I must ask?

I can see two overwhelming reasons why we need migrant Australians to get behind a First Nations Voice to Parliament: one, Aboriginal disadvantage has escalated because politicians are restrained from making any meaningful difference because they are voted in by their Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal constituents. So the argument that there are 11 First Nations politicians who bring a First Nations voice into parliament, was and still is flawed!

And two, there seems to be this invisible, silent barrier lurking in and around, up and down, permeating the walls of Parliament Houses. This is none other than covert and overt racism. If we want to change things, we have to recognise they exist and it ‘hides itself’ inside political rhetoric, intergenerationally.  Racism is over 2,000 years old and designed to weaponise the race of a human being. It’s man-made to create ‘them and us’ and originally designed to be ‘portable’ and hideous, hence why its been easy to disseminate around the the world, only to be maintained in the 21st century, still at the highest level of our government. I have a right, a role and a responsibility to put a question to our government: to what extent could Aboriginal disadvantage be a man-made, western construct to create and maintain an Aboriginal industry?

For 235 years, political rhetoric was and still is designed to dehumanise the First Nations experience that genocide was implemented in 1788. My ancestors faced outright warfare, germ warfare and psychological warfare. The latter remains as the ’silent barrier’ throughout the 20th and 21st century. Please don’t use your voice to maintain those ‘silent barriers’ to block First Nations prosperity, because many of you and/or your ancestors know what it’s like to violated coming from war-torn or third world countries.  As a gentle reminder: when your ancestors sought food, shelter & physical safety on this continent, it was forced upon our ancestors and so to reclaim your humanity and gratitude for your contemporary lifestyle, please vote ‘yes’.  Many of you and your ancestors have been told many inhumane myths, misconceptions, stereotypical views which amounts to misinformation so that we are shamed, blamed, vilified and dehumanised as First Nations peoples’.  Be the generation to break the cycle, because a wholesale invasion waged upon our ancestors was unjustified!  You have an opportunity to offer us an olive branch on their behalf, to say ‘thank you’, by voting yes to an Indigenous voice to parliament.

As undecided migrants, we have come such a long way together, and with much gratitude I say ‘thank you’ to the millions of non-Aboriginal migrant ancestors who fought and campaigned together with First Nations for First Nations people, bringing First Nations ‘out of’ those inhumane policies.  Today, our nation of Australians have many cultural identities let’s continue recognising each others humanity so we can continue moving forward as one nation to a place of equity, justice and in partnership together as contemporary Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.

If they could talk to us today, they would tell us we have come a long way together, but we still have some ways to go to bring this country to a place where no one lives in disadvantage the way many, not all, First Nations people still do: but know psychological warfare still permeates many of their lives.

Today, I live in ‘Aboriginal prosperity’ but not before my family and I were forcibly dragged through the rabbit warren called ‘Aboriginal disadvantage’, as I’ve outlined above!

I can only encourage you to be on the right side of history as over 90% who voted ‘yes’ in the 1967 Referendum became on the right side of history when they gave myself, my children, my grandchildren, great grandchildren the right to be counted on our Australian census as human beings. It is the right thing to do. Let’s make our future generations proud of the choice we make on October 14th, as we are proud of all those who went to the polls with their humanity intact, to vote ‘yes’ in the 1967 Referendum.  To all undecided migrants Australians who are unsure, I call on your humanity to support a ‘Yes’ vote, because when I perform Kaurna Welcomes I always acknowledge my gratitude for the sharing of modern  Australia and, I truly WELCOME each and every person onto Kauna Country! However, I also acknowledge my deepest sadness for the human cost to us as Firsts Nations people for this sharing, and that our ancestors never ceded  Sovereignty to our traditional lands, seas and waterways and any part of their civilisation.  But realising ‘I’ and I hope it’ll always be ‘we’ all have a right, a role and a responsibility to be a part of the Reconciliation process, for the wellbeing of our future generations under our great Southern Cross.

In conclusion, let me finish with a recent true story.

September 20th I was flying back to Adelaide from Melbourne and a non-Aboriginal man had the window seat and I had the aisle seat.  Once we had settled into our flight he leant over and asked, “Are you First Nations?” I said, “Yes.” He asked, “Can I ask how your voting?” I said, “Sure, I’m voting Yes.” He said, “Thank you, I haven’t been sure, but based on how you’re voting, I’m voting yes”.  I was little shocked, excited but more inspired as we made small talk, like he lived in Adelaide and was a Port Power fan; we parted ways, not exchanging each other’s names, but wished each other well.  There was not a racist tone in his voice, which made me feel culturally safe to continue talking.

Applying self-care to myself, I might not be following the comments from this article, but I hope I have encouraged you to vote ‘yes’, come October 14th.  Looking forward to seeing you at the polls.

My kindest regards, Rosemary

(This letter does not reflect those of any other individual, organization or affiliate.)

Read More: The Stolen Generations in Australia

Rosemary Wanganeen

Griefologist – Clinical Loss & Grief Counsellor-General Public & EAP provider; Facilitator; Program Designer; Assessor; Public Speaker; Consultant for research projects etc.

Aboriginal Suicide Prevention

Through the Lens of Griefology

Presented by: Rosemary Wanganeen
November 7th – 9th 2023
Adelaide, SA