‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.’ Margaret Mead
‘From little things big things grow.’ So Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody’s song begins and wends through the compelling David and Goliath story of an uneducated, unknown softly spoken Aboriginal man taking up an eight-year challenge to big capital. Vincent Lingiari was fighting for a principle he knew to be right, that the land belonged to his people. In capturing a near-forgotten story and bringing it to the light of public awareness, Kelly and Carmody used a catchy jingle to sow the seeds of recognition and understanding that many others have sown in generations gone by.
Change usually begins with a small group of thoughtful and committed people like Bill Ferguson, William Cooper, and the organisers of ‘The Day of Mourning’ in 1938. Charlie Perkins, Ann Curthoys and Jim Spiegelman along with fellow university students organised a bus ride to northern NSW in 1965 to shed light on entrenched racism in country towns. Pearl Gibbs, William Cooper and Faith Bandler led the charge in 1967, after years of work, to recognise Aboriginal citizenship throughout the country. Eddie and Bonita Mabo, Henry Reynolds and others confronted the High Court, challenging and overturning the accepted doctrine of ‘Terra Nullius’ in 1993.
The seeds of greater public knowledge and understanding of injustice led to incremental change and the gradual evolution of a more just and fair society which should function for the good of all. A greater understanding of the inequity and cruelty dealt to Indigenous Australians over centuries has been sown by small groups of dedicated and thoughtful people in every generation. These were people who, recognising a wrong, sought to correct it.
And so today, we are faced with the choice of enshrining a First Nations Voice in the Constitution after major groundwork laid by Patrick Dodson, Marcia Langton, and significant Indigenous leaders in 2018. Again, ‘The Uluru Statement from the Heart’ has taken time to ripen, for green shoots to show until it may come to fruition. In 2022, public sentiment for a Voice is growing, evidenced most recently by our new Labor Government[s commitment to it, and a joint statement from faith leaders in Australia supporting the adoption of the Statement in full.
From little things big things do indeed grow, mature and ripen.
Copyright: writer Fiona D'Souza; photographer Mervyn Bishop.