Transcript: Speech to Victorian Parliament

This is a transcript of a speech made on the floor of Victorian Parliament by the Treaty Advancement Commissioner, Jill Gallagher AO on Wednesday 28 March, 2018.

I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today.

I wish to pay my respects to their elders and elders throughout Victoria.

Without those generations of struggle and sacrifice we would not be where we are today.

Victoria was occupied prior to colonisation.

Our ancestors walked this country when there was a land bridge between Tasmania and the mainland.

Our ancestors witnessed volcanoes erupt in this state.

Our ancestors hunted megafauna with mere spears and stone tools.

And yet we survived as Aboriginal people — as a people.

Our communities had and still have very complex social structures and also our own laws that governed our ways of life.

We as Aboriginal Victorians have a unique relationship to our lands and our waters.

We have been the keeper of these lands and waters since time began.

We have cultivated this land.

We have farmed this land, and we had built elaborate networks of agriculture, trade and kinship.

This connection to country is critical to the wellbeing of Aboriginal people.

Then colonisation happened.

For Aboriginal communities in Victoria it was brutal, and it had unquantifiable devastating impacts on us as a people, and it still does today.

Since colonisation governments and settlers have sought to sever our connection to our country and to our culture, but we have never stopped practising our culture or seeking our connection to our country.

Let there be no mistake: there were crimes against humanity committed on our people in this country, and these are rarely acknowledged and even more rarely talked about.

But given all that, we have survived.

We remain a strong and proud peoples.

I am an Aboriginal woman from the Gunditjmara nations and I am also a member of the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation.

My mother, Frances Winter Gallagher, is an elder from the Gunditjmara clans.

Mum has actually defied all odds — all the statistics that we know today — as an Aboriginal person.

She turns 92 this year.

But Frances did not witness volcanoes erupting, she did not walk across the land bridge that connected Tasmania to the mainland, but she did witness and feel the brutal impacts of colonisation.

Frances lived at the Framlingham mission and often speaks of how hard it was for her and her people.

Mum also spoke about how brutal it was growing up as Aboriginal — the blatant racism that our people and our communities have experienced — and how it impacted on her as an Aboriginal woman but also on the community as a whole.

Mum also speaks about how hard it was to get a job when she was job ready — how hard it was to get a job because she was black.

And the only source of employment that my mother had access to, and many Aboriginal people in Victoria had access to, was fruit picking and vegetable picking, moving from place to place to follow the seasonal pickings.

It did not enable us to grow roots in one place — we moved all around Victoria — and it did not allow us to return to country.

But despite all this my mother remains a strong elder of our people and very proud of her heritage.

Mum lives her life with three guiding values that she instilled in us as her children: integrity, compassion and doing the right thing.

She raised her ten children using the same values.

However, there remains, as the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has already stated, unfinished business.

Aboriginal Victorians have never ceded sovereignty and have long called for treaties with governments.

Treaties are necessary for the recognition of the wrongs done to our people and the promotion of their fundamental human rights.

Treaties are an opportunity to recast the relationship between Aboriginal Victorians, non-Aboriginal Victorians and governments.

This journey towards treaty has brought together traditional owners, families and clans from across the state.

They have been and will continue to be at the heart of this journey.

This legislation is a fundamental milestone.

We are further along the road to treaty in Victoria than we have ever been before.

With the commitment of Parliament towards treaty, our community can continue the business of determining who will speak for us in future treaty negotiations.

I know that we cannot change the past wrongs, but this bill is a monumental step in the process towards righting the wrongs of the past.

I would urge all members of this great house to get behind the bill and walk side by side with us on the path to treaties.

Thank you very much.

Extracted from Hansard