Musing on makarrata
Rachel Matthews reflects on where we are in relation to truth-telling
and making genuine progress on righting wrongs.
Back home in Brisbane after our gathering in the Bunya Mountains, I mulled over what I had learned from the locals, what had shifted in my understanding of the word makarrata. Noel Pearson’s words from 2017: ‘Makarrata: a Yolngu term capturing the idea of two parties coming together after a struggle, healing the divisions of the past. It is about acknowledging that something has been done wrong, and it seeks to make things right.’
We know SOFiAns love to talk. In fact, that is our reason for being. So, as usual, we did plenty of it. But I don’t think we got close to discussing either the meaning of the word or the purpose of makarrata. Nor found ways to shift from a hypothetical, intellectual discussion to the real nitty gritty of recognising Australia’s first people in a formal as well as informal way. They have set the tone with the beautifully worded and presented ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart‘. What are we going to do, what am I going to do, to hasten the process of truth-telling we should support in return? How does it feel, this process of starting in a state of conflict and working through to accepting a state of compromise, when the subject will probably never be visited again?
There are so many pieces of unfinished business in the history of the British invasion of this land. I used to think land rights and financial compensation were the two big sticking point, but the former seems to have been dealt with reasonably satisfactorily. (Except when the big miners want to dig the land up or blow it up, and drain most of the groundwater, to boot. But that’s a problem for the whitefella farmers as well.) Financial compensation is still the one big issue which stops the pollies and their friends from even recognising that that is only part of the work to be done. Labelling us ‘black-arm-band-wearing do-gooders’, they can’t even acknowledge that there is anything to discuss.
Just the recognition of events would be a good place to start. A genuine willingness to listen, then a rewriting of history books, the adding of new plaques to statues with the revised stories. Personally, I don’t think statues should be torn down, just more info added. The very fact they are there with the original plaques is a piece of legitimate history. Then more statues can be added to balance up the personnel represented in bronze. I don’t think statues have lost their appeal or purpose in the digital age. There still seem to be enough sculptors working in traditional materials, who would probably welcome the work. And now, thank goodness, with the post-modernism of the 20th century behind us, I have seen some delightful representative portraits fashioned out of every material from chunks of non-milled timber to repurposed farm machinery.
I love the word makarrata. It’s strong and optimistic. Approachable, easy to pronounce, it rolls off the tongue in a satisfying way. Actually, the tongue doesn’t have too much to do with it. The “ma” is all lips, the “ka” the throat. Doesn’t matter too much how you spell it – double the “k”, or the “r” or the “t”. From the first time I was introduced to it, it has given me joy. I looked back through the writings that had made the biggest impact on me. Now this very present matter of healing has been overtaken, swamped by the other pressing matters of even greater urgency and global importance: a pandemic and Australia’s dismal response to global warming. (Whether I say global warming or climate change, I find them both ugly terms.) But I have faith we can hold more than two subjects in our minds, even of this magnitude.
Disclaimer: views represented in SOFiA articles are entirely the view of the respective authors and in no way represent an official SOFiA position. They are intended to stimulate thought, rather than present a final word on any topic.