What is 'Community Development'? A personal reflection

I’m wondering if you’ve ever thought what reconciliation might look like? What would be different? What would be better? These are important questions not just for me, but for all of us, because we don’t know what a reconciled Australia looks like.

I grew up in a town of about 200 people about 3 hours east from here, and I absolutely loved going to school. I lived on a farm, so going in to school everyday was exciting. Some of my earliest memories are of learning Noongar slang - shouting ‘Balay!’  to put people off as they kicked the footy-  telling scary stories about the mamari (a kind of bad spirit) and learning how to do a corroboree. Oh, if you’re wondering, Balay is a slang word meaning 'look out'.

As an adult visiting my hometown, it doesn’t ring of the same innocence and joy as it did when I was younger, or at least as it does in my memory. There is a shift happening in many communities - not just rural or remote ones. It’s something that is happening on even the smallest of scales. Our school communities, friendship groups even - they are different places as adults. They are filled with complexity and things to navigate, politics and emotions. For many people, both Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal, this becomes our reality.

My interest in community development sprung from my early experience and has been piqued over time by different events and experiences. I’m tormented by how we define ourselves as Australians. I often find it too difficult to see the ‘fair go’, the common sense, the grounded nature that I once did and that I know is there somewhere. It dismays me to know that in many cases, the relationships I enjoyed so much with my Aboriginal counterparts as a kid would now be riddled with an inability to communicate across barriers that, over time, have been inflicted upon us, often without our permission, realisation or acknowledgement. My Aboriginal primary school sweetheart, for example, who kissed me on the cheek behind the tennis courts in Year 7, and whose last name I was too ashamed to share with my high school friends upon getting to Perth. I’ve reencountered him in adult life and since working in the reconciliation space, and don’t know how I could ever have allowed myself to be convinced that our friendship was something to be ashamed of.

This is really the crux of what I want for you to understand if you are a Non-Aboriginal person reading - it isn’t about feeling guilty for the way that society has been shaped up until now. It is about taking responsibility for reshaping it into the future. We all have the power just as we are to assume this role - to become an ally in reconciliation for the future and to begin a learning journey that will not only benefit our collective future but can positively transform our own world view.

As a young person, how we come to identify as Australians in the future is incredibly important to me. I do what I do because I believe that all Australians are deeply and negatively impacted by the fractured relationship between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Australians, and that our freedom, happiness and success is bound up in that, unable to be fully realised.

Today I work alongside people from all walks of life and in many capacities, and every day I am reminded of the value we bring to each other’s lives. My vision is that every Australian comes to see this truth, so that our Australian identity may be healed and may truly flourish.