In 1997 the Australian government continued to debate the Wik decision to allow native land titles to coexist with statutory leases. John Howard’s ‘Wik 10 Point Plan’ constituted a step back in the ongoing struggle for Aboriginal rights. This followed the release of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s final report on the stolen generations, titled Bringing Them Home and documenting the systemic separation of children from their families across Aboriginal communities throughout Australia. This prompted the AJDS to organise a Reconciliation meeting, chaired by Lorna Lippman.
Linda Briskman, who helped organise the night, tells us that,
“From my recollection, organisers were passionate about Indigenous issues and at that time Noel [Pearson] seemed the obvious choice – feisty, passionate, intellectual and engaging. At that time we had no idea that he would later become quite a controversial figure, with divided opinion emerging from Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I can recall the venue being full and how captivated the audience was.
I can recall a humorous incident regarding the Chair for the evening, Lorna Lippman… During question time well known Aboriginal activist Gary Foley spoke about relationships between Jews and Aboriginal people (I can’t remember the detail). Lorna was not wearing her glasses and did not see that it was Gary speaking. She cut him short explaining that the night was not about Jews. She was later mortified to find out what she had done.”
Tom Wolkenberg was also there. He remembers that moment, when Linda took Gary Foley’s comments from the back of the hall.
“I was standing with him. In fact he referred to the march led by William Cooper in December 1938 in support of the German Jews after Kristalnacht. It was the first time I had heard of this event, but has since become famous, and on several occasions Melbourne’s Jewish community has honoured the event, including a reception at Parliament House, Spring St., several years ago.
By the way, Renate Kamener and I did a subject on Aboriginal Land Rights and Native Title at Melbourne Uni around 1994. The lecturer was Wayne Atkinson, who later addressed an AJDS meeting on Native Title for the Yorta Yorta. In the course, Wayne gave as a reference Noel Pearson’s speech to our meeting. My tutor in that course was Gary Foley. Now, that’s a few coincidences!”
Harold Zwier, who was also instrumental in organising the meeting, adds:
“It’s interesting that one of the companies for which we (Double Z Computer) were doing work at the time organised and paid for the printing of those flyers at no cost to the AJDS. I think we must have got at least 1000 printed and then distributed them to the various organisations that co-sponsored the event. Even more interesting, considering that the owner of the company knew that I was involved with the AJDS and thoroughly disapproved of our views – but not on this issue.
Some 300 people from across the community turned up to the event on the night.”