Commissioners appointed to the the nation’s first Aboriginal-led truth-telling process, the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission, were announced on Friday.
Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino, Victorian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gabrelle Williams and Co-Chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria Marcus Stewart and Geraldine Atkinson announced the five Commissioners at Yarra Bend Park.
Yarra Bend Park is a site of the Merri Creek Protectorate State and Merri Creek Aboriginal School. Both institutions saw the removal of Aboriginal people from traditional Country, community and culture.
“The appointment of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commissioners and the establishment of Australia’s first truth-telling Commission is an historic day for Victoria and all Australia — and the beginning of a fairer Victoria for all,” said the Acting Premier.
“I never thought I’d see a truth-telling process in my lifetime,” added Ms Atkinson.
“This is a testament to our Elders and Ancestors who have long fought for our rights and today is a significant milestone on our journey towards Treaty in Victoria.”
The five Commissioners are as follows:
Professor Eleanor Bourke – Commission Chair
Professor Eleanor Bourke is a highly respected Wergaia and Wamba Wamba Elder. The Professor was Co-Chair of Reconciliation Victoria for three years and sat on the Board of Native Title Services Victoria. She has a long career in empowering self-determination in local communities and advancing Aboriginal education.
Professor the Honourable Kevin Bell AM QC – Commissioner
Professor the Honourable Kevin Bell AM QC was a Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria for 15 years, playing a vital role in implementing and delivering the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic).
The Professor is the only non-Aboriginal Commissioner to be appointed.
Dr Wayne Atkinson – Commissioner
A Yorta Yorta/Dja Dja Wurrung Elder, Dr Wayne Atkinson played a major role in the Yorta Yorta Native Title Claim. He was President of the Koorie Heritage Working Group and has completed a PhD on the Yorta Yorta Struggle for Land Justice.
Sue-Anne Hunter – Commissioner
A strong Wurundjeri and Ngurai illum Wurrung woman, Sue-Anne Hunter is one of the nation’s leading voices around First Nations trauma and healing. She is the National Sector Development Manager for the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) and Co-Chair of SNAICC’s Family Matters campaign.
Professor Maggie Walter – Commissioner
Professor Maggie Walter is a Palawa woman with ties to the Pairrebenne People of the North East Nation. She was a nominee for the role of facilitator for the 2017 Referendum Council Tasmania consultations and represented Palawa at the Uluru Convention.
“The Commission is there to be guided by community, guided by the stories and guided by what is coming out of those stories. So, we don’t know [what healing looks like] but what I do know is that we want a narrative to Victoria that’s for all Victorians,” Commissioner Hunter told NIT.
“We want people to be heard … and for some people this is going to be the first time they’ve told someone these stories. So, we need to honour those sacred stories, be a safe space for people and to ensure that people are supported to tell their stories in the right way.
“It is historic, it is a very first and the eyes of the world are watching.”
As a strong Wurundjeri and Ngurai illum Wurrung woman, Hunter’s role sits very close to her heart.
“We’ve never really looked at the injustices in this country and now we’re going to look at the injustices of our people. I am so honoured because I look at my story as a Wurundjeri woman, and we were whittled down to 13 … we were nearly extinct,” she said.
“to honour those before me … that is part of what I want to do for Victorian Traditional Owners — honour those that were at the hands of colonisation.”
The five Commissioners were selected through a rigorous two-month process which was overseen by an independent panel. They will start the Commission’s truth-telling journey, investigating the contemporary and historical injustices committed against Aboriginal Victorians since colonisation.
The Victorian Government has dedicated $58 million to the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission in the State’s 2021-22 budget which will enable extensive and culturally safe listening processes across Victoria.
The Commission will deliver an interim report to Government by June 30 2022 and a final report by June 30 2024.
By Rachael Knowles