For First Nations people, Country is more than a place or the general description of the land, waters, animals and plants, it is a concept inherent to our identity and autonomy. Country sustains our lives in every aspect - spiritually, physically, emotionally, economically, politically and culturally. That is why when you hear us speak of Country, it is spoken about as if it is a person and a way of living and believing. Our relationship with and knowledge of our Country is expressed in our traditional songs, stories, dance and art.
Our relationships to Country are complex and interrelated. The term Country is often used by our people to describe our family origins and cultural associations with particular parts of Australia, that is why there are various ‘Countries’ making up the whole of Australia (you may have heard First Nations people ask each other ‘Where’s your Country?’ or ‘What Country are you from?’). Although the colonisation of Australia has impacted greatly on the relationships that our people have been able to maintain with Country, our spiritual and cultural connections remain strong.
Healing and Caring for Country is about renewal and maintaining all these aspects. Protecting, preserving and remediating our physical Country enables us to establish better relationships with the wider Australian community and for us to collectively move past those things that have wronged, wounded us and caused us pain. You may have heard First Nations people say things such as ‘healthy Country, healthy people’ and ‘if you look after the Country, the Country will look after you’ – but likewise, if Country is sick, so will the people be sick.
However, Healing is not just about recovering what has been lost or repairing what has been broken. For generations First Nations people have been calling on Australian Governments for stronger measures to recognise, protect, and maintain all aspects of our culture and heritage.
Evidence of the lack of any robust measures and protections is seen in the fact that the cultural wonder of Juukan Gorge can be lost forever within the current legal and regulatory framework; that we make up the greater percentage of people in prison; that we are still fighting for recognition of our rights as a sovereign people, for a national representative Voice to parliament and Treaties recognising those rights; just to name a couple of major unresolved issues.
This is why this year’s NAIDOC theme also seeks substantive institutional, structural, and collaborative reform – Healing Country means finally resolving many of the outstanding injustices which impact on the lives of our people.
As a nation, we cannot afford to let pass opportunities for reform based on a fundamental change in the relationship Australia has with First Nations peoples. The Lendlease Elevate RAP, Country, Truth and our Shared Story, 2020-2023, outlines how our company is working to address the historical dispossession of First Nations peoples and the disruption and damage to Country caused by our corporate activities as well as the broader impacts of colonisation, assimilation, and damage and change wrought on the natural Australian landscape, waters, climate, flora and fauna. Lendlease has a unique opportunity to contribute to Healing and Caring for Country and to incorporate the voices, leadership, knowledge, talent and wisdom of First Nations peoples in the development of the built environment.
Healing gives us back to ourselves and ultimately gives us back to our Country, and a healthy Country enables the wider Australian community to move forward with hope for the future, with renewed energy, strength and enthusiasm for life. Heal Country, Heal our Nation.
Cath Brokenborough is a proud Wiradjuri woman from Central West NSW and the Executive Lead for First Nations Engagement and Reconciliation at Lendlease.