Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Opening Address Garma Festival 2008

Location: Garma Festival

Thank you Galarrwuy for that kind introduction.

I would like to thank the Gumatj people for welcoming all of us to your country today to celebrate the Yolngu culture at this wonderful festival.

I recognise the very difficult times the Yolngu people have gone through recently – but as we all come here together at Garma, the strength and resilience of your community is clear.

Garma is a fantastic event and I, like all of you, look forward to it. It really is one of the most exciting places to be – and today one of the two big celebrations happening in the world.

This is Garma’s 10th anniversary and every year it just gets bigger.

It has become Australia’s premier Indigenous festival, featuring inspiring cultural events, and promoting dialogue and discussion.

Garma does so much for promoting Indigenous knowledge and culture. It brings together people from all over Australia and the world to learn about the Yolngu way of life.

It is universally recognised as an extraordinary melting pot of Yolngu people and artists, international visitors, and corporate, community and government leaders. As I look around, I can see that diversity before me.

And everyone is here to engage on issues to promote Indigenous culture, economic development and social empowerment.

I want to acknowledge the great work of the Yothu Yindi Foundation. Since 1990 you have all worked so hard for the rights and recognition of Indigenous culture, especially in the areas of employment and training.

It was Dr Mandawuy Yunupingu who had the vision and determination to set up the Foundation and, in 1999, the Garma Festival.

I am pleased that the Australian Government has provided $375,000 to the Foundation to run this year’s Garma Festival, including $40,000 for the Indigenous women’s forum.

We look forward to supporting the Foundation in the future as it develops new ways of expanding Garma’s achievements.

It’s particularly appropriate that we are all here because tomorrow is International Day of the World’s Indigenous People.

What better day to celebrate the achievements of Australia’s Indigenous peoples.

And this year we can celebrate this International Day knowing that we have dealt with a major piece of unfinished business that had been holding back the nation.

A lot has happened in Australia since the last Garma.

When the Australian Parliament apologised to Indigenous people, in particular the Stolen Generations, on February 13 this year, something happened to the country.

The Prime Minister said that by acknowledging the wrongs of the past, the time had come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history. And the country is doing just that.

The Government has laid out ambitious targets to tackle Indigenous disadvantage and close that the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.

For the first time in so long, Australia’s Indigenous past and our Indigenous future are where they should be – at the top of the national agenda.

And the Prime Minister and the Cabinet were here just two weeks ago and received a petition calling for constitutional recognition, which we will be moving forward on.

So the theme for this year’s forum – Indigenous knowledge – caring for culture and country is so timely.

Culture is so important for family, community and social empowerment.

Earlier this year, Kevin Rudd and I met with Nanna Fejo. She was a truly beautiful and inspiring woman, a member of the Stolen Generations, yet without bitterness or rancour.

After telling us her extraordinary story, what she said was: ‘Families – keeping them together is very important. It’s a good thing that you are surrounded by love and that love is passed down the generations. That’s what gives you happiness.’

What she said really resonated. I think about her words a lot.

Just this week her daughter rang to say how touched Nanna Fejo was by our decision to support the return of Indigenous remains from the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History in the USA to families here.

It is only by being deeply connected to your culture and your family that you can understand how best to care for it.

It is knowing what culture you come from and what place you come from that properly grounds you. That knowledge is critical for all of our emotional, physical and spiritual well being.

For Indigenous Australians, of course, culture and place are inextricably connected.

Country plays a central and defining role in all Indigenous culture, no matter what other regional differences might exist.

So ‘caring for country’ means, by extension, ‘caring for culture’. They are inseparable.

And the Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation is an example of this. The Yolngu organisation has been caring for country for 16 years.

I am very pleased today to announce that the Australian Government, through the Aboriginals Benefit Account, is recognising this with a $1.3 million grant for the corporation to build a new local office complex.

Dhimurru are leaders in land and nature resource management.

They are in here for the long haul. They have already put years into protecting the marine turtle in a long-term recovery project with other government and not-for-profit partners.

Dhimurru work with local Yolngu landowners to tackle environmental issues like erosion and the control of feral animals and weeds.

The flow on effects from Dhimurru’s success is that they employ 16 local Yolngu people, giving them on the job training in literacy and numeracy, business administration and Indigenous leadership.

We are very happy to support their efforts.

The Government is also pleased that Rio Tinto Alcan is making a significant contribution to building the new headquarters.

Because of Indigenous people’s skills and knowledge in looking after country, the growing focus on climate change provides new opportunities.

Indigenous landowners own or manage 20 per cent of the Australian continent. You are in a prime position to access new markets and new prospects which are opening up in response to climate change.

It’s important that Indigenous land managers access carbon markets and other industries.

This is part of our election commitment to a $10 million Indigenous Emissions Trading Initiative, which is being implemented as part of our Caring for Our Country Program.

Indigenous knowledge is growing in economic value.

It will help you develop the solutions needed for challenges that arise in remote communities, as well as helping us all to combat the bigger environmental problems we face.

But the value of Indigenous knowledge also lies in the bonds formed between communities and families.

It is these bonds that give us our strength – they give us our social cohesion. Without them we are isolated and ineffectual. But together we make a difference.

I wish you all a wonderful Garma, and a very happy International Day of Indigenous People tomorrow.