Federal Labor MP Linda Burney may be the first Aboriginal woman elected to the House of Representatives, but she has told an international First Nations conference she didn’t start voting until she was 28 because she didn’t feel part of Australian society.
“I didn’t vote until I was 28-years-old,” Ms Burney, a Wiradjuri woman, said. “I didn’t vote because I didn’t feel part of the Australian society.”
“I realised part of that was my responsibility. It was up to me to stand up as a First Nations person and take my place.”
Ms Burney said she had also been “a bit naive” about the importance of her election to the New South Wales seat of Barton in 2016, which saw her take her place in Federal Parliament.
“I didn’t quite realise what it would mean to the party I represent, to the Parliament I am a part of, to the broader Australian community and most importantly to my own First Nations community,” she said.
She was delivering the keynote address Tuesday at the giant Healing Our Spirit conference which has seen 1000 First Nations leaders and experts from around the world converge on Sydney.
The address was delivered via video because Ms Burney was in Canberra for the sitting of Federal Parliament.
She told the conference that the British colonisation of Australia had a big impact on her people, the Wiradjuri of New South Wales, and her own personal history.
“The Wiradjuri have an important place in the Australian narrative,” she said. “We were the first inland nation to experience British colonisation and it was devastating for the Wiradjuri.”
“The art of poisoning water holes and flour was first used on the Wiradjuri. Across my country there are many massacre sites … What happened to my people back in the early 1800s is a very important part of who I am and who the Wiradjuri people are today.”
Ms Burney said the Healing Our Spirit conference — which has a theme of For Our Grandchildren’s Grandchildren — went to the heart of First Nations stories around the world.
“We have brothers and sisters from many different nations, many first world countries with a colonial story like this one,” she said.
“Our stories are so similar and familiar to us. We have a shared story, a shared history and a shared understanding of what it means to be a First Nations person in this world today.”
Healing Foundation Board chair Steve Larkin said the conference was a chance to hear what countries are doing to address trauma across First Nations communities and generations.
Organising committee co-chair Professor Juanita Sherwood, from the University of Sydney, said it would focus on projects that are improving outcomes, as well as emerging research.
Cultural custodians from countries including Canada, Hawaii, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway and the United States have joined Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders and healers in Sydney for the conference which ends Thursday (Nov 29).
By Wendy Caccetta