Interim Report Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

Written September 2 2018

#600words Interim Report Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.


My local federal member Julian Leeser (Berowra) and Senator Patrick Dodson are co-chairs of the committee which produced the Interim Report Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. 

My experience with indigenous communities has been limited, though reasonably well informed through discussions, partnerships, research, and as a geography teacher. 

Several of my friends and colleagues have immersed their life and work in indigenous communities. One worked in a school in Lajamanu for four years in which we were in regular discussions and we hosted students who came to Sydney to see AFL games.

My friend then moved to a large indigenous school in Cairns, which coincidently also became a school that developed an outreach partnership with my current school.

I have personally been on four outreach experiences to Far North Queensland, specifically the Cairns, Daintree, Yarrabah, Atherton tablelands and Undara local and regional areas. 

My intellectual awareness started with the reading of Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines and Sally Morgan’s My Place while my understanding of First Nations people’s ‘country’ has evolved as a geography teacher for a period of 35 years  


My submission to the Committee was made, with a sense of discomfort as a non-indigenous person. On seeking advice, I agreed with what was proposed to me, that doing something is better than doing nothing.

After reading all 179 pages, taking notes like I was back at university, summarising key points and annotating sections with thoughts, I was ready to write.

The Constitution sits on my bedside table because I don’t understand it and need to look at it slowly and regularly. So, I felt totally inadequate about commenting on the Constitutional aspects of the Report. 

I did understand the proposal for a Makarrata Commission to oversee agreement making and truth telling (6.1) in hearing The Voice of indigenous peoples. Makarrata is a Yolngu word from Arnhem Land meaning “a coming together after a struggle, facing the facts of the wrongs and living again in peace.” (6.9).

Makarrata cuts directly to the first principles of the issues with which we are dealing. The process to facilitate truth making of facing facts, through local and regional dialogues really appealed to me and it was easy to see working due to my experiences as a geographer and past researcher into nonformal education.  


I suggested using nonformal education, which is organised learning outside formal education, as a model for collaborative feedback.

First Nation peoples are exemplar examples of living a life based on the principles nonformal education through their lifestyle. Nonformal education occurs in community group activities around a common purpose, such as preventative health care initiatives, cultural pursuits, festivals, land and water management, community housing committees, rural practice initiatives, and NRL/AFL sporting teams etal.

To hear The Voice, I believe, one needs to be immersed in these communities of learning in their place and in their time frame to hear the truth telling, in order to collaboratively work towards constitutional recognition.

In practice this could involve specific community visits to the Dulgu Barra clan group country of Yidinji, the community organisations in their township of Yungaburra and their lineage for over 1500 generations at Lake Barrine. Or a visit to Yarrabah Arts & Cultural Centre & Menmuny Museum and participate in a jewellery workshop or Eric’s art workshops. 

While partaking in such nonformal learning community activities across the nation, issues are discussed, which may help shape a strategy for constitutional recognition. This is an ambitious and potentially transformative project but one worth pursuing. If you would like to see the submission let me know.


Chatwin, B. (1987) Songlines.

Freeman, D and Leeser, J. (2014) The Australian Declaration of Recognition: Capturing the nation’s Aspirations by Recognising Indigenous Australians. 

Morgan, S. (1987) My Place.

Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia (2018) Interim Report, Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. 

Pluss, M. (1990) Nonformal Education in Asia and the Pacific: A critical survey and synthesis Master of Education Dissertation, University of New England.

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