The meaning of NAIDOC Week

A column by 2021 Milparanga Leadership program alumna Annette McCarthy

My mother is Warumungu, she was a culturally strong woman who spoke her language. Her Country is within the plains of the Barkley region, northeast of Tennant Creek. Her Country is vast and covered in tall grasses. After rain it comes alive with vibrant colourful lilies blooming in waterholes dotted across the landscape. I remember my mother yearning for her Country. But Alice Springs was where she had work, she had me and my sisters, and we had our school.

My father is of Irish Catholic heritage, his family arriving in Australia five generations before him. Whether he identified as an Irish Catholic man was never a question for him. He simply did. 

For me, a fair-skinned young Aboriginal girl, growing up in Alice Springs in the eighties and nineties, it wasn’t that simple. 

When people learned of my Aboriginal mother, the experience could go either way for me. They might embrace it or be indifferent. But it was just as likely going to be a negative outcome for me. I even lost a couple of friends once their parents found out. To the child I was, this experience was a source of shame about who I was and the people I belong to. 

Alice Springs back then was different. Australia was different. How the Australian society viewed and understood Aboriginal occupation and history was different. I acknowledge that negative stereotypes of Aboriginal people in my hometown are still devastating to a young person’s sense of self.

But the Mabo decision was yet to be made, the National Apology declared, and many other significant social movements like reconciliation, change the date and more hadn’t begun.

As a young person, I didn’t actively celebrate NAIDOC Week as I continued to struggle with my identity, a repercussion of my childhood experiences. 

But today, I know. And NAIDOC Week represents all things positive about Aboriginal culture. It allows us as Australia’s first people to dispel those negative stereotypes, reclaim our identity, and be proud that we are a distinct yet integral part of Australian society. 

This is what NAIDOC means to me: being proud and not ashamed of my heritage and how it defines me. 

Annette McCarthy is an alumna of the 2021 Milparanga Leadership program. She is also the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation’s Governance Manager.

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