FEDERAL Parliament’s bipartisan vote yesterday recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the first inhabitants of Australia has been cautiously welcomed in south-west Victoria.
Hamilton elder John Lovett and Framlingham elder Len Clarke said the move was long overdue and an acknowledgement of past wrongs.
However, they said the next stage in getting proposed constitutional change approved in a referendum would be difficult.
Mr Lovett, a member of the Stolen Generation, was in Canberra on February 13, 2008, when then prime minister Kevin Rudd apologised on behalf of the nation.
“Now it’s taken five years to get to the next stage,” Mr Lovett said. “I wonder if it was a token gesture to keep us contented or a genuine move in our best interests.
“When the wording of the constitution change is being decided there needs to be input by grassroots Aborigines, not just the present hand-picked advisers.
“If there’s a genuine interest by the government it needs to be fair dinkum.”
Mr Clarke said MPs would have to work hard to convince the Australian public to support changing the constitution.
“There are pockets of intolerance for anyone who’s non-Caucasian,” he said.
“The parliamentary vote is on the right road, long overdue. Let’s see where it will take us.
“Our people have suffered all sorts of injustices since white settlement.”
Mr Clarke said he was open to the suggestion of engaging wider input on the constitution wording, but was wary of Aboriginal politics bogging down the process.
“People could be handpicked for new ideas, but I think it’s in good hands at the moment,” he said.
Mr Lovett also called for more recognition for the contributions of achievements by Aborigines and cited international cricket matches at the MCG.
“They never mention that Australia’s first cricket team to leave our shores was Aboriginal,” he said.
“In that team were Johnny Muller of Harrow and Tommy Redcap of Dergholm.”