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Submission Number
Catherine Donnelley
Submission date
Main Submission Automated Transcript


The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a “live political document” and will remain so
until ALL Australian and Torres Strait Islanders are living equitably.

This unprecedented call to action was made on the 26th May 2017 to awaken and
activate the people of Australia. The graceful and generous invitation given by the First
and Original Custodians is for all Australians to ‘walk with’, on the land in which together
we live, work, eat, sleep and raise our children.

This invitation has not yet been adequately responded to. Substantive, meaningful
systemic change is critical. This will be enduring with a successful referendum for
constitutional enshrinement of a Voice to Parliament, which enables the voice of ALL
Indigenous Australians to be heard.

There has never been more awareness of the need for the people of Australia to listen
and respond from our hearts to the Statement and through action, co-create a healthy,
vibrant nation for us all to thrive within. The time for shared power and the enshrined
wisdom of First Nations people is now.

Only through collaborative authorship and diverse voices can we address the issues that
face our specific, environmental and collective wellbeing. The overwhelming successful
majority witnessed in the 1967 Referendum symbolized a unified fight for equality. This
is both a historical and contemporary reality and momentum is palpably building again.
There is increasing collective awareness that the health of humanity and future
generations undeniably rests here.

The majority of Australians are intent on improving relations. The gap in life quality,
wellbeing and opportunity metrics make it clear there is an urgent need to act on the
requests made in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Beyond the cold figures lives the
warmth of voices embedded in the truth of stories being shared. It is apparent that
these multiple contexts make tangible why the enshrinement of Voice, Treaty and Truth
will be enriching for all Australians.

On return from living in New York for a few years, I made a trip from Sydney to Canberra
in 2014 to witness the state of reconciliation in our capital. For me, it was only from this
expanded perspective that I could clearly see and feel shame in the exploitive
relationship we have with our Indigenous people and culture. I had no education prior,
despite winning Awards and Honors degrees through multiple institutions.

On that day the Tent Embassy was desolate. The impact and haunted echoes of the
blood-algae stained, parched pond was viscerally apt. The eerie landscape was barren.
That evening, Fred Chaney’s Reconciliation retirement speech declared that we need to
make the ‘space’ for reconciliation. He approached the lady whom I was casually talking

Catherine Donnelley 1
with after the speech and introduced himself. I affirmed that the ‘space’ was definitely
needed and that as a trained architect my aspiration was to contribute to co-creating
that ‘space’ and this was the topic of my University of Sydney Phd. Chaney replied with
an endearing dismissal “You do know you’re crazy, don’t you” and I unhesitatingly
replied “Yes, but in such a good way”.

Since then, I have been researching; “Architecture as a catalyst for social change
towards Awareness” focusing on Spaces of Hope for healing relationships between
Indigenous Australians and the wider community. These extend well beyond the literal
into the personal, spiritual, social, health, financial, educational and multiple trans-
contextual realms across the entire fabric of our culture.

I now teach at University, in the Faculty of the Built Environment asking students to
consider how we might respond to the Invitation given in the Uluru Statement from The
Heart. I ask them to reflect and reconnect to their visceral knowing and listen and design
from here – the world would be different if we were all doing this and it is required we
do. Constructing regenerative, sustainable solutions in harmony with whole cycle
thinking and sentience.

Questions around ‘architecture’ evolved into a deepening personal reflection of my
structural self-awareness. What were my foundational assumptions? Why did I have
them? How were my unconscious biases showing up? Was I even asking the right
questions? This led me to relational training and hosting collective spaces. Specifically to
allow for co-design, valuing community participation. Respecting the inherent wisdom
of lived experience to inform, inspire and create systemic change. The answers already
known, when we listen.

In 2015, I was fortunate enough to tour rural North Western NSW on the ‘Freedom Ride
Re-enactment’ with 17 of the original Freedom Riders who had travelled with Charlie
Perkins in 1965. On the final night, I stood up in front of our group, including Rachel
Perkins, Troy Casser Daley and Paul Kelly. I suggested it should have been named the
Freedom Ride ‘Revival’ as the need for change remains urgent and the implication of
‘reenacting’ is perpetuating the acts of deception that pervade the history of this
country. Continuing to hide the gross inequality, which is clearly unsustainable for all.

As a mature age student and mother of three, I was sharing this sentiment with experts
who had spent a lifetime engaged in activism. Simultaneously I was coming into belated
awareness and building confidence in my own voice. Although I have Indigenous family
who endorse my participation in advocating for equality, for the majority of my life my
white privilege enabled complete blindness to the despairing contemporary reality of
Australia’s rightful custodians. I was ignorant that my privilege came at the high price of
oppressing others. This is a confronting and shameful fact to face and for years rendered
me quiet.

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I now know I am not alone coming to realization. I continue to address my educated,
conditioned bias and ignorance regarding the lived reality of thousands of Australians. It
is so heart warming to hear that this has become a more collective experience and that
many more Australians are keenly seeking the truth they have been denied.
Although I certainly carry threads of intergenerational history of severance to ancestors,
family, place and belonging through my parents experiences, I have never been
consciously influenced by these facts. Possibly, a result of a strong heart centered
relationship with my mother growing up. Both my parents have given me the gift of
care. This is an undervalued yet invaluable quality that I deeply acknowledge.

We have been taught to separate, when actually everything is intrinsically connected.
There is something to be said for a mother’s innate knowing and the nurturing that
sustains life. My daughter turned blue and stopped breathing the day she was born. I
was told in the clinical hospital atmosphere “everything is fine, it was just a dusky
episode”. However I held my breath and said to the Dr in tears at the 6 week check up;
“I don’t know what’s wrong, she’s so thin, she’s not eating, she’s so sleepy, she’s not
thriving”. There is nothing more heartbreaking as a mother. I still remember the
gripping look when the Doctor turned to me and said;

“She has a hole in her heart, it’s not one hole between her chambers, it’s like gauze
there are many holes.”

I share this with you because it is my story but I believe much more than that, it is
OUR story. As Australians we have many holes in our relationship with the Heart of
the Nation, the people and land. I am certain that when we come to true collective
care for the sacred and regenerative wisdom of the First People of this country we will
heal together.

First Australians have always practiced this ancient knowledge of interconnectedness in
ways other Australians are only beginning to learn. There are many holes as a result of
the ongoing legacy of colonization, but if we listen from our hearts we can remember,
and if we act from our hearts we can heal. In doing so we will thrive together.

There is clear need to continue the conversations and for Australia to respond to the
Uluru Statement from the Heart’s sacred invitation. As we learn the way forward
together. Encouraging others to join in being active citizens in creating a vibrant future
for all. In a country that has the values inherent to ancient regenerative wisdom at its

I ask that Voice is constitutionally enshrined and hope to share the potential walking
together holds.

Catherine Donnelley 3