On a sunny winter morning, during a brief spell in Melbourne’s lockdowns, there was the chance for an hours-long breakfast at Riverside Spoons-in Swan Hill.
The ancient gums, the paddle boat and the mighty Murray River spoke of history. The conversation was of history far, far back. Gathered at the table were Vicki Clarke Mutthi Mutthi, woman and Jason Kelly Mutthi Mutthi, Wamba Wamba man together with Joan Hamilton, known among First Nations as Joan the Bone.
For a year or more I had followed news of Jason Kelly, I knew his father well but had never met this son of his. Jason, a man in his thirties, was among those who crafted the ‘Statement from the Heart’, signed it at Uluru, and brought its message back to his people in Victoria. Voice. Treaty. Truth. When Treaty was seriously considered by the Victorian Parliament, a First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria was elected to take this notion further. Jason Kelly was a Wamba Wamba member.
Dappled sunshine made patterns on our table, I drank more than enough coffee and listened intently. There was no need for me to do anything except listen. Joan had known Jason since he was a youngster, he would talk to her, I would learn. I had already followed Jason’s writings. ‘For me, truth-telling has always been at the front of everything in my lifetime, everything I participated in. Every time we’ve had marches we’ve been marching for truth’.
Jason spoke of the moment when the 38 clans of the First Peoples Assembly, elated that the Labor Party was intent on a path to Treaty, were focussed on grasping this opportunity and moving fast. This opening might not last beyond the next State Election. Here he was, a young man among the elders, arguing that the clarity of Truth must underpin the work towards Treaty. It was a time of high emotion. Jason talked about his need to go-bush, about the need for the silence to get thoughts quietly into shape. To weigh everything. To catch a few fish and grow a beard.
Jason spoke slowly and thoughtfully now of pros and cons, head down, slowly stirring into a whirlpool his last cup of coffee. ‘I’m the author of the resolution regarding the truth-telling’, Jason said, and looked up to catch Joan’s eye.
This resolution was passed by the Assembly and Legislated in Parliament. There is now an independent body, You-rrook Justice Commission, which will report to the First Peoples’ Assembly as the terms of Treaty/ies are shaped. It has the powers of a royal commission and is clear about its goals. Establish the Truth of what has happened and why, help all Victorians understand the Truth of the impact of colonisation, help transform Victoria so that these injustices do not continue. There is a comprehensive website. https://yoorrookjusticecommission.org.au/
Joan and I met again with Jason at Vicki’s house before heading back to Melbourne. That afternoon, by a cosy log fire, he talked about the traditional way of dealing with a person who had committed grave wrong. That person would be speared in the leg. It would be painful though not fatal. The important thing is that the clan would then take responsibility to heal him and accept him fully.
Truth may hurt like a spear through the leg, but there is everything to be gained.