ADJOURNMENT - Victorian Aboriginal Health Service

30 May 2018

I'd like to acknowledge that this week is Reconciliation Week. I mentioned in my first speech that my seat of Batman has a vibrant First Nations community. Batman is home to many national and state First Nations organisations—in fact, wonderfully far too many to mention here.

Last Saturday I was lucky enough to be invited to the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service to commemorate the 20th National Sorry Day. The Victorian Aboriginal Health Service was established over 40 years ago. Its objective was and continues to be to meet the specific health and social needs of Victorian Indigenous communities. But, more than that, it has at its very core community control. Through their own control, the health service know they can support the wellbeing of their community through providing not only vital medical, dental and mental health services but social services as well. Aboriginal community-controlled models of care have been established and in operation in Australia since the 1970s. The Victorian Aboriginal Health Service Limited was one of the earlier community-controlled health services in Australia—the first, of course, being in Redfern. These services were needed because of the poor experiences of the First Nations community members and their treatment by mainstream services that inspired a group of concerned First Nations leaders. With the support of some non-Aboriginal people, they established a culturally safe and appropriate medical service model that would help the needs of First Nations people, and these services are still needed today.

The service is managed by Michael Graham, the CEO. Although the original service was set up in Fitzroy, a busy and important satellite has been established in Preston, in my electorate of Batman. It's from that centre that the important Bringing Them Home project is coordinated by the wonderful Daria Atkinson. The program helps with healing. It helps reunite families and provides counselling. The pain, hurt and deep psychological trauma felt by the stolen generations is palpable when you are privileged to be invited into their community. There is no doubt that the effects are intergenerational. There is no doubt that we as non-Aboriginal people have an obligation to listen, to learn, to acknowledge and ultimately to hear from First Nations peoples the way forward.

The Sorry Day dinner I attended was wonderful. Hundreds of people from the community were there. We were all dressed up. Children were running around playing, and the food was fantastic. Martin Luther King III, no less, and his family were special guests, and we were lucky enough to hear Archie Roach and Kutcha Edwards sing healing songs. Archie, himself one of the stolen generations, sang these words:

Be careful when you walk through this land brother because a child was born here.

But the star of the night was the wonderful Murray, who proudly stood up and told his story of being only eight when he was taken away from his mother, forcibly removed along with his two sisters and driven thousands of miles away, scared and sad. He was taken to Turana in Melbourne, by no means a place of safety. He was separated from his sisters and treated like a child delinquent. He was thrown into a cell and left there for days. He, as so many young men did, turned to alcohol and self-abuse, but Murray has survived. He told us he married a wonderful woman. He had a family and, like Archie, used music and songs to help heal, one of which he performed along with his granddaughter. He used to have nightmares about that cell and being locked up and losing his family, but he told us the nightmares stopped when he heard Kevin Rudd say 'sorry'. As I left, Daria said to me, 'Did you learn some more, Ged?' I said, 'Oh, yes.' She said, 'Keep coming, keep listening and keep learning,' and I intend to.

I'd like to finish by reading a poem about the service that was written by Joanne Dwyer at the 25th anniversary of the health service:

Many, many years ago some elders decided

That our people needed a meeting place

Where they could come and be united

So like animals are drawn to water holes

the people began to come

Gathering together like Honey ants

For there was much work to be done.

Their aim was community control

To make decisions of their own

But it was more than just a meeting place

For many it was home

Slowly as the years passed by

It began to take its shape

Triumph and tribulation lying in its wake

Changing camp a new beginning

Though many hearts have cried

For the dedicated and community people

Who have left the camp or died

Good times are still celebrated

Hard times take their toll

But the people have kept walking on

To new-found water holes