‘YES’ Campaigners Expand Opportunities For Information

Kerry O’Brien and Jade Ritchie chat with Bellingen residents. Photo: And the trees photography.

VOTERS unsure about the upcoming referendum about the Indigenous Voice to Parliament have had, and will have, many opportunities to enrich their understanding.

On Thursday September 21 and Friday September 22, well-known journalist and author Kerry O’Brien, and Gooreng Gooreng woman and business leader Jade Ritchie, spent time on the Coffs Coast meeting with First Nations community, civic leaders, and speaking at Community Information Forums.

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On Thursday evening, more than 350 people gathered in the Bellingen Memorial Hall with Mr O’Brien and Ms Ritchie, Elders Aunty Bea Ballangarry, Uncle Gary Williams and Uncle Micklo Jarrett, and ‘national treasure’ Jack Thompson.

Uncle Gary told the crowd, “We can’t afford to stay around for another couple of generations saying the same thing.”
Aunty Bea said, “It’s freeing for me to be able to use my voice.

“It’s not just my responsibility, it’s my heart.”

Ms Ritchie told the audience the Voice to Parliament proposal builds on movements from the past.

“The invitation has been extended by Aboriginal people,” she said.

The next evening, approximately 150 locals attended the Cavanbah Centre to hear about the background to the Voice concept, some basics around the Constitution, and how a Voice to Parliament could improve outcomes for Aboriginal people.

The panel also included Clark Webb, the Executive Officer of Bularri Muurlay Nyanggan Aboriginal Corporation (BMNAC).

Mr Webb provided a local perspective on how a Voice would support the efforts of Aboriginal communities working to revitalise language and cultural practices including through schools and other educational programs.

Mr O’Brien described the referendum as a pivotal moment in Australian history, yet also “so simple, so straightforward”.

“Indigenous people are saying to us, we just want to be heard,” he said.

Ms Ritchie said those supporting a Voice to Parliament are voting yes for “ recognition, inclusion and to make things possible”.

“To vote no is to accept the status quo, and we all know that’s just not good enough,” she said.

Linda Kinchela, a volunteer with ‘Coffs and Surrounds for Yes’, opened the forum and closed the event by thanking the speakers.

“As a Gamilaroi woman living on Gumbaynggirr land, it was heartening to see how many people came to the Forum keen to learn more about the Voice to Parliament,” Ms Kinchela said.

Mr O’Brien and Ms Ritchie began the day with a morning visit to the Gumbaynggirr Giingana Freedom School, the first bilingual Aboriginal language school in NSW, where students are taught language, cultural perspectives and traditional philosophies as embedded into the curriculum.

They then met with 25 representatives across non-profits, faith communities, business, academia, the health sector, community and service groups, and multicultural communities to explore the role of civic leaders in supporting their communities with accurate information and opportunities to be active participants in the democratic process.

Ms Ritchie met with door knocking volunteers during the afternoon, sharing some of her own experiences around having one-to-one conversations with people about the referendum.

On Sunday September 24, Woolgoolga residents took to the beach in the cooler weather in support of ‘Yes’ and other groups are planning walks.

Lockie Skinner, from One Mob Radio, who spoke at the walk, said, “These events are brilliant opportunities for people to come and learn more about this monumental event and decision.

“It is so great to see people taking the opportunity to be a part of this, and have conversations to make a greater informed choice.”

The ‘Coffs Harbour Health Workers for YES’ group, comprising doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, will rally from 3pm until 4pm on Friday September 29 at the Specialist Medical Centre.

Coffs residents from multicultural backgrounds can attend a ‘Coffs Harbour Multicultural Voting Information Forum’ at the Cavanbah Centre on Saturday, September 30, from 9.30am until 11am, to hear from multicultural leaders, multicultural and refugee workers, and others.

More information about this can be obtained from Anthony Ruge on 0431 399 114.

By Andrew VIVIAN

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