‘Reconciliation needs to happen right here at home’
young girl in Newcastle, surrounded by a sea of white faces, Colleen Bird first learnt about what it meant to be an indigenous Australian.
"When I went to school all we learnt about was Germany and the German language and culture," she said.
"When I first learned about Aboriginals and Aboriginal culture I was sitting in a classroom surrounded by white students and it was the first time I'd ever acknowledged I was different in some way."
Born and raised in Cherbourg, Colleen moved with her mother and siblings to Sydney and later Newcastle.
"It wasn't until I became involved with the National Aboriginal Conference in my late 20s that I began to know and love my culture.
"My friends helped me get involved with NAC during the Australian Bicentenary year in 1988 when I was still living in Newcastle and that is when the pieces all started to come together for me.
"Uncle Bill Smith told me I should be proud to be Aboriginal. 'We are the original people,' he used to tell me, and that's when I started to meet my culture and I learned to be proud to be indigenous."
Colleen, now in her mid 50s, says she can't remember Kevin Rudd's official apology speech back on February 13, 2008, but she can remember that day bringing a deep sense of sadness and grief to the Cherbourg and Murgon indigenous community.
"I can remember being back here and everyone was talking about it and it made a lot of people cry because it was finally recognised that day," she said.
"We weren't really expecting an apology and still to this day I don't expect an apology.
"In reality the path to reconciliation should have started years and years ago and the need to reconcile is always going to be there, it's never really going to go away.
"But I do not feel the need to celebrate or commemorate Reconciliation Week or Sorry Day because I am a big believer in not dwelling on or living in the past.
"I want to move forward with my people and see us come together as a community."
Colleen says right now there is a definite sense of not belonging within the South Burnett indigenous community.
"Because we can't be housed in Cherbourg due to the housing shortage we have to live in Murgon and then we are seen as outsiders, so we desperately need to come together as a community.
"We need to be a united front as one and reconcile together as a community. That's the only way things are going to improve for our people. Reconciliation needs to happen right here at home."
Colleen says there are a number of matters happening right now in the Cherbourg community that are of deep concern to her.
"My biggest concern right now is the elders in the Ny-Ku Byun Elders Village. I'm concerned they are not getting the appropriate care they need and I feel this needs to be looked into further.
"This is an issue I would like to see addressed before Reconciliation Week 2021, but we are only going to achieve this if we come together as a community."