By Jawoyn woman Trish Angus, Former Director, CareFlight Board

On 13 February 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd moved a motion of Apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

I was at work in Darwin watching it on television.

What I felt is hard to describe, it was a warm feeling that at last the government of Australia, my country, could formally and publicly admit that there were many past policies, programs and practices that tragically, severely and in many instances permanently impacted Aboriginal peoples right across the country.

It was moving to watch people both inside parliament and outside the building openly expressing their emotions with tears and sadness, combined with others crying with smiles and hugs.

You couldn’t not be affected by it all…I cried.

I cried for family and friends no longer with us, I cried for those Aboriginal families who suffered more than I and my family did, I cried for those who had their children removed without consent, without explanation, and without any acknowledgement.

When I watched that apology, emotions swept through me – I was sad, happy, thrilled, proud, tearful, angry, disgusted, appalled, energised, anticipative, wishful, caring, hopeful.

Fast forward to today and we’re celebrating 20 years of Reconciliation Australia shaping our country’s journey towards a more equitable, just and reconciled nation.

Throughout my career, I have watched our country navigate reconciliation. For more than 40 years I worked in senior executive positions in health, local government, Aboriginal affairs and community services. I also worked in public hospitals and served in the Australian Defence Force. And today I’m a member of several committee’s and a Director of CareFlight’s Board.

In recent decades, I’ve watched as government agencies and other organisations have increased their engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, improved their partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and employed more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

At CareFlight, our goal is to double our current number of First Nations employees, continue engaging with First Nations community controlled organisations, and always have at least one First Nations person on our Board.

I do think Health has generally always been ahead of any other sector when it comes to reconciliation. Health practitioners almost always treat everyone equally and individually – so working in this environment has always appealed to me. Ever since I was young I had an interest in caring, healing and prevention. Nursing was a natural, rewarding and convenient entry into this field.

Whilst not always impeccable or perfect in practice, we are all more reconciled than we have been before.

The theme for Reconciliation Week this year is ‘In This Together’; “Australians are all In This Together; every one of us has a role to play when it comes to reconciliation”.

When the theme was announced last year, no one could have foreseen just how much it would resonate today. When COVID-19 started spreading, the world completely changed. The whole community and CareFlight had to adjust quickly, but we did it together. We have worked together to protect our vulnerable populations and stop the spread of the virus, especially in the Top End where we know how catastrophic it may have been for our community.

It reminds us that whether in a crisis or in reconciliation, we are all In This Together.

To me, In This Together means that I, an Aboriginal woman, will continue working together with all Australians. That includes the ancestors of settlers who put in place some terrible and horrific past policies that impacted on Aboriginal lives and families. That doesn’t mean I forget past histories and damages, but I will contribute to help build a constructive life for all future generations.

In This Together means I won’t let the past determine who I am.

In This Together means we won’t let the past determine who we are.