Captains’ Corner | College Captain, Jake Laherty

This morning I attended Mass to commemorate the beginning of National Reconciliation Week. The theme for 2021 is ‘More than a word. Reconciliation takes action.’ On that theme, Father told a story during the homily that struck me, and even more so after I heard an opposing story later in the day.

Father’s story hails from a historical novel by Kate Grenville called The Secret River. He recounted a scene in which, after tensions boiled over between a European settlement in colonial Australia, and the surrounding Indigenous tribe on whose land they settled, a battle broke out. I say battle; it was really more of a massacre. The settlers rode out against the Indigenous tribe and massacred them all in the name of the land. Among these settlers were a father and son, the latter of which had been brought along presumably under some archaic notion of a young man proving himself. After the son witnessed the father committing atrocious acts, the two retreated to a nearby river to clean themselves. The son looked on as his father knelt by the water and scrubbed the blood from his hands and forearms. They didn’t speak, except for when the father looked up, held a finger against his lips, and simply said shhhhh.

I retell this story here because, for me, it stood out as a stark allegory for how damaging silence can be. But, unfortunately, for too long, the attitude of silencing atrocities has permeated Australian history; society, stigma, cowardice – whatever you want to call it – has taken the place of the father, urging generation after generation into silence, as they washed the blood from their hands.

The second thing that happened today, which reinforced this idea in my mind, occurred during Songwoman Maroochy’s Welcome to Country during College Assembly. Before performing the ceremony, her daughter Baringa told us the story of the Turrbal peoples' near end. Immediately before European settlement, it is estimated that the tribe numbered in the thousands. Not forty years after European arrival, that number was around five. Over 40 years; 60 000 years of tradition and culture almost forgotten. But of course, the Turrbal people have survived through to the modern day – so what happened? It took the courageous efforts of one Turrbal woman, who ran away north to the Gubbi Gubbi people of the Sunshine Coast area. She told anyone who would listen of the atrocities being committed down south. Slowly, grounded in nothing but the courage of this woman, the tides began to turn; the Turrbal people were able to stave off extinction.

This story stuck with me because where the first spoke of the devastation of silence, this one spoke to the prosperity in the absence of silence; what can happen under courage, voice and action.

‘More than a word. Reconciliation takes action’ – if we are to embody the National Reconciliation Week theme this year, we must start by understanding the dichotomy of silence and action. European Australia has lived under a culture of silence for too long; even historically, it took only the courage of a few to counteract the silence at its worst. Imagine what could happen if we worked together now?

Answer the Call – take action.