Labourers were ‘recruited’ from across the Pacific to work on Queensland’s sugarcane plantations.(State Library Of Queensland)

A lot has been coming up for me lately around shared values and the importance of understanding our own values in relation to our engagements in life.

The business definition of shared values is that they are explicit or implicit fundamental beliefs, concepts, and principles that underlie the culture of an organisation, and which guide decisions and behaviour of its employees, management, and members. [1] With respect to specific issues, values are principles embodying ideas about what is right and wrong, desirable and undesirable.

The recent “Black Lives Matter” protests resulted in a clash of values between Australians in relation to the Coronavirus social isolating rules and the gathering of large numbers of protesters voicing their anger against racism.

Martin Luther King’s assertion that “time is neutral” indicates that social problems do not solve themselves and to that respect there comes a time when racism does need to be confronted publicly, continually, and relentlessly.

Racism is a serious problem, and it deserves treatment as a serious problem. For the people supporting the protests, their activism is not aimed at being in conflict to Covid-19 rules or about devaluing the government’s handling of Covid-19 but about valuing the political momentum created by the brutal and needless death of African American George Floyd in the US in order to highlight racism in Australia and the needless and brutal deaths of Indigenous Australians in custody.

Education is key to understanding these complex issues and people need to face the truth about the history of this country. To be informed is to begin to understand the compexity of race, race relations and racism. Research and understanding should not be delegated to Universities but taught across education platforms so that all children growing up in Australia can understand the history of the country that they live in. That it’s not a just a white history or a multi-cultural history, but an Indigenous History spanning some 60,000 years, as as such needs to be valued.

It would seem that our political leaders also need to brush up on their history, given recent comments by our Prime Minister that Australia did not have a history of slavery. Just look up “Blackbirding”, the term used for the Pacific Islanders who were lured, tricked and kidnapped and brought to Australia as slave labour. [2]

The recent destruction by Rio Tinto of a 46,000 year old site at Juukan gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia highlights the values that mining companies have for Indigenous Australians and their cultural heritage. According to Rio Tinto, the mining activity conducted in May 2020 was undertaken in accordance with all necessary approvals. It was preceded by a ministerial consent under Section 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) (AHA).  This also highlights Western Australian Government values as they relate to mining and the protection of sacred sites.

As a result of the media coverage and a national backlash and public outcry of the destruction of the site, BHP has halted its plan to destroy 40 other sacred Aboriginal sites. It is impossible to know how many sacred sites have already been destroyed in the name of economic development.

People who do not feel connected to these places may ask “why protect these sacred sites?” To Aboriginal Australians they are an intrinsic part of a continuing body of practices and beliefs emanating from Aboriginal laws and traditions. Sacred sites give meaning to the natural landscape. They anchor cultural values and spiritual and kin-based relationships in the land.

Aboriginal people know that sacred sites can be dangerous places and can play an important part in their health and well-being. Urban industrial development, construction projects and other ground disturbing works can cause significant harm to sacred sites.

Activities such as cutting down a sacred tree or digging into sacred ground may disturb the Spirit Ancestors, and this may have consequences both for the person causing the disturbance, and for the Aboriginal people who are custodians for that place. [3]

This is the reality for Indigenous Australians whose minority does not give them the numbers to exert a strong political voice. The recent number of protesters joining the fight would indicate that the values of Indigenous Australians is now being acknowledged by a broader Australian population. For over 60,000 years many different language groups of people have cared for and lived on this continent and for anyone living here today these are the people we can thank for our beautiful environment and clean air and water. These groups of people have had to stand by and watch the continual destruction of their people and their land due to a lack of respect, ignorance and racism and it is difficult to even being to understand their ongoing suffering. But as non-Indigenous Australians we can start to listen and learn and respect their values, and I am certain that if we can begin by being open and honest about our shared history then perhaps we can also come to a place where we can also have shared values.