At the recent International Conference on Ageing in Melbourne I came across a group of older Aboriginals (mostly women and one man) who were nervously waiting to make a presentation on their work. We hear so much about the sad state of Aboriginal communities in terms of health, unemployment and education it was really inspirational to hear the stories of this group. Apparently they had decided to take matters into their own hands in their communities, working with the children in schools. They felt they needed training to undertake such issues as sexual abuse and domestic violence and had found funding for, and undertaken, this training. They had numerous certificates as counsellors in a wide variety of fields. Apparently they go into the schools and raise these issues with the children, as well as teaching them about their culture. They were incredibly friendly and enthusiastic about what they were doing. I felt really humble after meeting them.

One of their achievements was to create a business calendar to pass on knowledge of their culture. They very generously gave me a copy and autographed it for me and it is now a treasured possession. They had designed it entirely themselves and had then had it professionally printed. They gave me their email addresses and I hope to keep in touch with them. I heard afterwards that they come from 6 different tribes and such cooperation is very unusual.

Many Australians are very concerned at what is, and always has been, happening to the first inhabitants of this country. There is disgust that the government tries to address the issues of worse health outcomes, less employment and lower education standards than the rest of Australia, by sending in the military and then wondering why it doesn’t work. The trouble is that both sides of the political scene use the same inappropriate approach.

There is also still the myth that white people did not take over the country by violence. This is far from the truth. The violence occurred but was not identified as one, or a few, battles. It happened over many months and years in separate instances and was not recorded. We are still following this behaviour today but it is not overt physical violence.

The work of such groups as that of Aunty Shirley at the conference in Melbourne is a very positive way forward and should be encouraged and supported.