sunrise over perth western australia city
Image: Canva.
  • For some organisations, it is not always obvious where to start.
  • For UDIA WA, that journey has started with the establishment of a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Working Group.
  • There are plenty of resources available to any organisations wanting to start a RAP.

Australia is on a journey toward reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people. It is a shared journey, where everyone has a role to play and can contribute individually or as a business or organisation, to further our progress toward a reconciled nation.

Understanding what reconciliation means and why it is important, is a positive first step toward more direct action.

While reconciliation was a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Report in 1991, the word reconciliation itself can mean different things to different people.

However, overwhelmingly reconciliation in the context of Australia is the strengthening of respectful relationships between all Australians. It is also about recognising our shared history and working toward closing the gaps to achieve greater equality.

According to Carol Innes AM, as a Noongar woman and the Aboriginal Co-Chair of Reconciliation WA, the word ‘reconciliation’ has been a contentious word in the Aboriginal community.

For some organisations, it is not always obvious where to start.
Carol Innes, AM. Aboriginal Co-Chair of Reconciliation WA.

“To me, it means to fix something that was done wrong, and we as Aboriginal people have been done wrong by the past atrocities on our people as well as policies and legislation that governed us and excluded us,” Ms Innes said.

“In order to reconcile we need acknowledgment of the past, and of telling the true history – warts and all. The biggest part is the acceptance of that history and that we consider where equality and equity sit within that history as well.

“We need to recognise and acknowledge the contribution that Aboriginal people have made to society,” Ms Innes said.

Rhys Paddick, Co-Founder and Co-Trainer at Acknowledge This! says that the meaning of reconciliation has changed for him over time.

Mr Paddick co-founded Acknowledge This! with his business partner Emma Gibbens in March 2020 and the training provider has quickly grown. The duo provide training sessions in delivering a meaningful Acknowledgement of Country, along with keynote presentations on reconciliation and work with organisations on their RAP journey.

rhys paddick co founder acknowledge this
Rhys Paddick. Co-Founder Acknowledge This!

“Originally, reconciliation just meant a week throughout the year in which Aboriginal culture is highlighted and we have conversations about it,” Mr Paddick said. “I think most Australians are kind of there, and that is an okay place to be. But then I started working in this space and I started to really investigate what reconciliation truly means.

“What I have found is firstly, many people either don’t know how to define it, or they define it differently or have different perspectives,” Mr Paddick said.

“So, I referenced the good old dictionary, and there are two definitions of reconciliation.

“The first definition is ‘the restoration of friendly relationships’. However, some people will say (and rightfully so) that there was not necessarily a friendly relationship to begin with, so how can it be about restoring something that did not exist?

“The second definition of reconciliation is ‘to make one value or belief system compatible with another value or belief system for mutual benefit.’

“Now, this is the reconciliation that I am involved with, that I am passionate about. I think about that in terms of (very broadly speaking) the modern cultures and traditional cultures, or the non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal cultures, and those two belief systems and structures working in harmony.

“I think about it like a reciprocal relationship between traditional and modern cultures. That is the reconciliation that I work in, and that is what reconciliation means to me,” Mr Paddick said.

Ms Innes further highlights how vital reconciliation is and that everyone has a role to play.

“It’s important because it builds a better future for all Australians, one where everybody is living together in greater harmony, and we are not having parts of our society feel like they don’t belong,” Ms Innes said.

Embarking on the journey

For many organisations that are only just starting to think about the role that they can play in reconciliation, it is not always obvious where to start.

For UDIA WA, that journey has started with the establishment of a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Working Group and the commitment from that group to learn as much as possible about the history of Aboriginal people, understand the culture and the significance of Country.

From an industry leadership perspective, we are learning more about the impact that urban development has on Country and how we can work more effectively with Traditional Owners and stakeholders in this space to influence positive change, particularly with respect to protecting and integrating Aboriginal Cultural Heritage into places and projects.

UDIA WA is also in the process of undertaking extensive engagement with Aboriginal stakeholders to better understand what actions we can take to progress reconciliation in a meaningful way.

Ms Innes says that there are plenty of resources available to any organisations wanting to start a RAP.

“If you’re not sure where to start, at Reconciliation WA we facilitate our RAP Ready program, a free forum available to everyone, which supports organisations commencing or continuing their RAP journey,” Ms Innes said.

“RAP Ready guides organisations through developing their RAP and offers the opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals and organisations in Western Australia’s reconciliation community.

“We also have our RAP RINGs (Reconciliation Industry Network Group) program, exclusive to RWA organisation members, which builds connected and informed communities of reconciliation peers.

“We have two streams of RAP RINGs, one which brings together organisations at their RAP tier level, and another which brings together organisations by their sector.

“Together, the RAP RINGs drive shared learning, build alliances and enable outcomes across the reconciliation movement,” Ms Innes said.

Mr Paddick urges people not to forget themselves as an individual during the RAP process and to remember it is just as much about the journey as it is the destination. That journey can include significant personal growth and development for individuals.

“It is important to remember to consider the individual intention when having the conversation about reconciliation, particularly when it comes to approaching reconciliation from an organisational perspective,” Mr Paddick said.

“It can be hard to look at it from your own personal perspective when you might feel like you’re doing it from an organizational perspective. But reconciliation is a very personal journey.

“I ask people to consider, what does it look like if you commit to these concepts and constructs from a place of enjoyment and excitement,” Mr Paddick said.

Recognising Aboriginal Cultural Heritage

When the development industry works on projects in new or existing areas, we are working on the Country that has been home to the longest continuing culture in the world for over 60,000 years.

Urban development has the capacity to foster vibrant, sustainable communities and a significant aspect of that is understanding the history and significance of the sites that are being developed.

“Aboriginal people across the nation cared for this beautiful country long before 1788. Many places have significant meaning and purpose,” Ms Innes said.

“It has taken less than 300 years to destroy many sites, many species of wildlife that all had a significant purpose for harmony.

“Our heritage makes this place unique to the rest of the world. Every Australian can take pride in and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, the longest surviving culture on earth.

“When we can all recognise, protect and celebrate significant places in Aboriginal culture on Country, we build greater, more respectful relationships with one another,” Ms Innes said.

When we are considering urban development and the work that the industry does in delivering communities, Mr Paddick emphasises that you are dealing with Country and the idea of transforming something around us that is valuable and dear to both Aboriginal people and the broader community.

Mr Paddick says that understanding and weaving in the story of a place in a meaningful way can help people connect with the heritage and significance of an area.

To weave that story effectively, and to respect and protect the important cultural heritage of a site, early and meaningful engagement with Aboriginal stakeholders is critical.

“The most important thing is to build relationships. In reconciliation, we talk about the process of Respect, Relationships and then Opportunities,” Ms Innes said.

“Too often people and organisations, despite their good intentions, jump into action before they’ve built respectful relationships with their local Aboriginal communities. When that happens projects and initiatives can miss the mark, or in a worst-case scenario, cause harm.

“We often talk about ‘nothing about us, without us.’ If you build a committed and respectful relationship, built on trust, with the Traditional Owners of your community you’ll be able to create some truly meaningful and effective projects together which celebrate Culture and Country.”


This story was originally published in The Urbanist magazine, an official publication of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (WA). It has been edited for republication by The Property Tribune. 

The Property Tribune thanks the UDIA WA for the opportunity to republish the work, and share thought leadership in relation to urban development and community creation with our readers.

Read the original copy of The Urbanist by heading to UDIA WA’s website under the News tab.

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