Legislative Council: Thursday, December 01, 2022


Dr Uncle Lewis O'Brien Oration

The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS (15:17): My question is to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Will the minister inform the council about the 2022 Dr Uncle Lewis O'Brien public oration?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:17): I thank the honourable member for her important question. A couple of weeks ago, I was honoured to deliver this year's Dr Uncle Lewis O'Brien Oration. This was the third oration, with previous presenters being Tom Calma and Jackie Huggins. This year's theme was Our Past Informs Our Future—The Next Steps. In my mind, these were very fitting themes when we are considering right now our nation finding itself at a juncture of recognition of First Nations people, and particularly a Voice to Parliament for First Nations people.

It is really quite a remarkable thing when you consider the contribution of Uncle Lewis O'Brien, a Kaurna elder, and what he has seen in his lifetime. Uncle Lewis was born in 1930, meaning his current age is 92 years. South Australia was proclaimed in 1836 and therefore Uncle Lewis is only one year shy of having been here for half the time that South Australia has been in existence.

As was noted by speakers, including myself, at the oration, Uncle Lewis has borne witness to many of the events and milestones of our society's history, as we all know well, and a great portion of it is in relation to some of the treatment—and some very poor treatment—of Aboriginal people that cannot be reflected on proudly in the colony's history and the state of South Australia's history.

With this in mind, the oration reflected on the truth of our colonial past, which included the massacres of First Nations people, the treatment of Aboriginal people returning as veterans from wars and the policies of the stolen generations. There were reflections on different parts of our colonial history. Much of what has happened in our colonial history, including things that we are rightly proud of celebrating, have included very difficult aspects.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Overland Telegraph line, which connected Australia to the rest of the world. It took approximately two years, covered more than 3,000 kilometres from Adelaide to Darwin and was completed in 1872. It was a significant accomplishment that connected Australia to much of the rest of the world for trade and communication, but it also fast-tracked colonial impacts and conflicts between Aboriginal people, particularly in the centre and the north of Australia.

Towns and settlements were established, pastoralists would claim land that would push Aboriginal people out, and cattle and livestock would decimate land and use water resources. There are documented massacres that were in connection with the establishment of outposts, particularly at Barrow Creek in the establishment of the telegraph line.

Fortunately, as was spoken about on the night, there are bright spots in our history. Through standing on the shoulders of giants we have fought for justice for Aboriginal people, for land rights, and for issues to do with Aboriginal people taking their proper place, not just in our society but economically in South Australia.

There were a lot of words spoken of the leadership of former South Australian members of this parliament, particularly former Premier Don Dunstan, who had a number of significant accomplishments, including changing offences under the Police Act that criminalised consorting between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, and establishing the Aboriginal Lands Trust, the first legal recognition of Aboriginal land rights anywhere in Australia, in 1996.

It was a night that Uncle Lewis O'Brien was able to be celebrated for his significant achievements, but it was also a very touching and fitting part of the night that Michael O'Brien, his son—who many would know from giving Welcomes to Country at many events in Adelaide—gave the Welcome to Country at the oration for his father.