What Does it Mean to be Australian – In Conversation with Terrence Whyte

Terrence Whyte is an Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Children’s & Youth Specialist working for The Salvation Army in Queensland. We asked Terrence questions about what it means to be Australian, what he is proud of, and what he would like to change. This is his response and the perfect start to our series for you this January:

I am a Kaiwalaig and Geomulaig man, my family are from the Torres Strait Islands. Born and raised on Kalkadoon country at Mount Isa, I now live in Townsville North Queensland which is shared by two traditional custodian groups the Gurrumbilburra Wulgurukaba peoples and the Bindal peoples. For me Townsville is a central place where I can stay connected to my family and friends in Western QLD and my extended family and culture in Torres Strait. Townsville is often referred to as ‘Mount Isa by the sea’ from the Mount Isa mob and ‘Townsbil Ailan’ (translates to Townsville Island) by families from the Torres Strait.

When I researched my family’s history what I learned was my blood line connects me to Aboriginal peoples, Torres Strait Islander peoples, South Sea Island peoples, Pacific Islander peoples and English peoples. I am aware and have accepted that I’m influenced by all of these cultures and even other cultures that I am not connected to with my blood line but because of where I live; some in small and minute ways and others in large and dominate ways.

The places I have visited around Australia have shown me that Australian’s originate from many cultures. My life experience has proven when other cultures are acknowledged and embraced, respect is present in communities. Respect leads to acceptance and with acceptance can form connections; being connected to people and country creates a sense to care for people and country.

So for me… What does it mean to be Australian? … it is to acknowledge and embrace this culture for caring for all living things

What makes me proud to be an Australian, is that our country is home to the oldest living culture in the entire history of the planet and we have exclusive access to it… there is so much to learn and to share with the rest of the world.

The one thing I would change about Australia, is to be taught about the truth of Australia’s shared history, I believe when we learn about our true history, old Australian’s and new Australian’s will have a greater understanding of our past and greater opportunities to learn about our shortcomings and richness. The reconciliation and relationship building process will form a deeper and stronger connection that will turn in to preservation and protection for each other.

I think that the 26th of January should be renamed to Survival Day for now because it is the date of when the first recorded massacre occurred at Waterloo Creek marking not just the arrival of the first fleet but also the desolation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander custodianship that should be recognised in order to survive.

Aboriginal sovereignty has not been ceded and since Australia’s Highest Court over turned the declaration of Terra Nullius on June 3rd 1992, Australia has not entered into Treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Nations. Australia will need to decide as a nation to grow away from it’s colonial past and offer Treaties to all Aboriginal Sovereign nations or vice versa Aboriginal and Torres Strait Sovereign Nations will need to offer the Australian Governor a Treaty. Then on the day all Treaties are accepted we should celebrate and it should be known as Acceptance Day, to commemorate the acceptance of treaties, the acceptance of our past and the acceptance of each other.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Salvation Army

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