Joint IBA & ILC NAIDOC breakfast

8 Jul 2016

Speech by Chairman Eddie Fry
Joint IBA & ILC NAIDOC breakfast
Darwin 8 July 2016

On behalf of the two organisations I chair—the Indigenous Land Corporation and Indigenous Business Australia—I would like to extend a warm welcome to you all and thank you for joining us at this year’s NAIDOC Breakfast.

Before going on, I first pay my respects to the Traditional Owners, the Larrakia people, and their elders past and present. Thank you for allowing us to gather on your country.

The theme for this year’s national NAIDOC celebrations is Songlines—the Living Narrative of Our Nation.

I would like to start my speech with this important quote:

“It is the song cycle that has the greatest importance in the lives of my people. It guides and informs our lives. A song cycle tells a person’s life: it relates to the past, to the present and to the future. (Yolngu)  it balances our lives through the song cycles that are laid out on the ceremony grounds. These are the universities of our people, where we hone and perfect our knowledge. It is through the song cycles that we acknowledge our allegiance to the land, to our laws, to our life, to our ancestors and to each other. We work from the new moon to the full moon – travelling these song cycles as a guide to life and the essence of our people: keeping it all in balance so that wealth and prosperity might flow. This is the cycle of events that is in us and gives us the energy for life, the full energy that we require. Without this, we are nobody and we can achieve nothing”

These are the words of Galarrwuy Yunupingu and I am honoured to be able to repeat them to you this morning.

Songlines are the maps of our land – the maps that link our stories, express our relationship to our land, and mark the journeys of our Sacred Ancestors.

A songline defines the land we live on and the laws we live under. They define the ceremonies and the obligations that we have in respect to our country.

Different groups own different parts of a songline. We are connected because song cycles weave and criss-cross over country.

These songlines can be mapped across the continent—covering what was once our wholly-owned Indigenous Estate. 

The existence of these songlines has allowed us to claim back some of the land that was always ours through our ancestral rights. It is these songlines that helped push back time and ushered in a period of “reclamation”

Indigenous Australians now own or control a lot of land.

According to the best estimates we have interests in some 40 per cent of the Australian continent.

This is a significant reclamation—one of which Indigenous Australians can be proud.

The expression of songlines has been a key argument in the process.

As a result, across northern Australia, Indigenous groups have vast landholdings.

Indigenous Australians and other parties have intersected their interests via a large number of land use agreements that lay out protocols to be observed, maintained and adhered to and which seek to provide “returns” of balance and opportunity

There are 22 Indigenous-owned carbon farming projects in northern Australia, with 1.66 million carbon credits generated to date.

We can rightly celebrate these gains.

At the end of the day, however, Indigenous people do not have the wealth or influence that ownership of such a vast estate should bring. 

Poor health, education and stubbornly low living standards have left us ill-equipped to compete for development, or to leverage benefits from our land.

Too few past investments have delivered intergenerational wealth, the economic wellbeing that underpins other forms of wellbeing.

Remember the power of Yunipingu’s words – these song cycles act as a guide to life and the essence of our people: keeping it all in balance so that wealth and prosperity might flow.

We need to re-awaken our songlines as they apply to our lives now and into the future so they intersect to foster our growth not just as Indigenous people but as a Nation of people so that we all live in balance.

We must never lose sight of them. At the same time we need to create new pathways and journeys—about our land, our relationships and our obligations.

We must identify and maximise the economic value of our current land holdings.

We must preserve our land’s social and cultural values, ensure our future wellbeing, strengthen our unique identity, raise our status within the nation—and respect and revere our songlines by all who live in our great land.

We must be creative, not passive and above all things be solutions-focused, in facing the challenges of today.

Indigenous Australians own broad areas of land and water—these things are becoming scarcer in the modern world.

The outlook for international tourism is good; overseas visitors are coming to our shores in greater numbers and this presents an opportunity to showcase outwardly who we are.

Significant opportunities exist in the conservation and carbon economies.

Transforming energy sources in the face of global warming is a global challenge.

A booming agribusiness market is at our doorstep.

Australia’s natural resources are being sought by foreign and domestic investors to play a major part in supplying Asia’s food and fibre requirements.

It’s unlikely that we will satisfy the full demand of their food bowl, but we can seek out lucrative niche segments of their markets.

We can forge an understanding among us on the yield of our land, on modern commercial settings, to the wellbeing of our life, consistent with the time honoured constructs of our songlines that our ancestors laid out and intersected with each other.

This offering to our domestic and international markets and partners will be no small feat. 

Indigenous Australia needs to be a player at this critical juncture in human history.

If Indigenous Australia is to take up this challenge, we need to join together and agree on the way forward.

We must establish a new connectedness and forge new modes of cooperation.

Just like our songlines we should link our land more productively, collaborate and act strategically to take advantage of the myriad opportunities on offer.

Our ancestors did it with each other via our songlines – are we now so different to them?

This requires, on our part, a vision, planning, astute and patient investment, and new partnerships —in other words, strategy, energy, clever and original thinking.

Along with the ILC and IBA Boards and Executive group, I am focusing the two agencies I chair to play a large role in realising this vision of an Indigenous Australia.

The two boards and executive group are working hard to raise the profile of the ILC and IBA, to make them high-performing organisations with the capability and culture to be drivers in creating opportunity for our people now and in five, 10 and 50 years time.

The ILC is transforming to be more commercial in focus, supporting Indigenous land holders to generate greater revenue from its investments. And ultimately in lock step with IBA.

Both agencies need to be alert to emerging opportunities.

Together, we can do more to support Indigenous aspirations of the future.

As IBA and ILC transform, ‘NOW’ is the time to start transforming the Indigenous Estate—from a piecemeal set of holdings to a living entity that is well run, open for business and a source of value and influence for our future generations.

It will be the work of many decades. And the invitation is there to accept.

We face many challenges, but I hold great hope for the future of Indigenous Australia.

I know we can build a better future using those assets we already have as a starting point.

The connection to this asset list are our Songlines.  It is our connectedness that draws together and consolidates us as ‘one’ nation of people.

The songlines are in us and give us the energy for life, the full energy and all that we require.

They are a gift to the Nation and, as Indigenous people charged with ushering in a more dynamic convention; we need look no further than the constructs of our songlines.

They are timeless templates to connect us and for us to convert into the modern world that we live in so that wealth and prosperity might flow from our assets. 

Without this, we limit opportunity and can only achieve modest gains.

Our ancestors developed these songlines linking people to land and wellbeing and consigned them forward to future generations.

 Are we not charged with the same bond that takes into account the world we live in today and the one we hope may exist in the future?

I would like to finish with a few brief comments on the theme for this morning’s breakfast “Land and Business – Celebrating NAIDOC Pride.

Over the last few years there has been a huge growth in the popularity of NAIDOC both among our people and the wider population.

There has been an upsurge in pride by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia.

That pride takes many forms. It is pride in being Indigenous; Pride in family, culture, country, connection and achievement.

It is about pride in our children, our young people and our Elders.

NAIDOC has become a powerful force for engendering a positive focus by us and on us.

We are all too familiar with the negative stereotypes portrayed of our people.

We are also only too familiar with the constant negativity that is so often the focus for media coverage and comment.

NAIDOC Week is an opportunity to break away from the negative, celebrate our achievements and feel good about ourselves.

For example, I am proud of the increasing numbers of our young people who are going to university and completing their studies to become doctors, lawyers, academics, social workers and a whole host of other professions.

Our young people hold all our future hopes in their hands and we are rightfully proud them.

We face many challenges but I hold great hope for the future.

I want us to dream about what kind of future we want for our children, our families and our communities.

I am proud to host this breakfast and I am pleased that you all have taken the opportunity to be with us today.

Thank you for coming – Happy NAIDOC!

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