Action not words to breech divide

Riverbank Frank Doolan. Photo LISA MINNER
Riverbank Frank Doolan. Photo LISA MINNER

MOST people would know of me because of my involvement with the Dubbo community Men's Shed.

Since the shed began I've found my position on race relations in Australia has shifted markedly.

Nowadays I'm a great believer in reconciliation. But that was not always the case.

I was a young Aboriginal person in Bourke in the 1960s through to the 1980s.

I got a lesson early in life about race hate. I saw the kind of people it bred. Bourke people [back then] were hard on both sides of the race divide.

It seemed as if the words of the celebrated writer, Rudyard Kipling: "east is east and west is west" and never the twain meeting was lived out on a daily basis in the Bourke of those times.

I have seen injustice on both sides meted out. I guess it all had lots to do with me becoming the angry Aborigine I did.

I felt powerless in the face of it and my anger was my only response. Dubbo Community Men's Shed changed all that forever.The shed forced me to confront my racism. I'd spent a lifetime highlighting the racism of others, yet spent little time on my own racist attitudes.

Deciding to abstain from racist attitudes and actions on my part [regardless of the racism I cop] has been liberating for me personally.

If race is the issue in your life then try confronting your own racism. You will find it exists [if you are really honest]. You will also feel liberated if you too deal with it.

Addressing racism in a way that really allows you to be you, and others to be who they are.

Australian society has changed so much.

While we embrace diversity in Australia one vital question remains unanswered: what about the black and white issue?

Do we maintain the Mexican standoff, or do we, as a people, address this together?

Know what I mean?

It's the situation which currently exists in Dubbo and country centres like it, nationwide. It's where two groups co-exist and yet have as little as possible to do with each other. It's where both groups demonise each other and little or no attempt is made to change the status quo.

There is another way. It's all tied up for men in Australia in the black and white handshake.

When men in this country address differences and start to stand shoulder to shoulder; families, communities and a nation will notice.

A handshake is a gesture of peace. It derives from ancient times and it happened when leaders of opposing forces met on neutral ground. You can't shake hands with a fist. The hand that used to hold weapons was the one used to shake in peace. The clasping of fighting hands signified both were unarmed. Thus the habit grew into what we have today.

When I first put up the idea of a Community Men's Shed with the focus on reconciliation, a lot of people, including my own, thought I was mad. Others' perceptions as to my mental health are the least of my worries however and I stuck.

Today Dubbo has a community space which can be used by many. Dubbo Community Men's Shed is discussed in the most positive light in the halls of power in this country and it seems the Australian Men's Shed Association [AMSA] also view our operation favourably.

The men of Dubbo have put Dubbo on the map.

At Dubbo Community Men's Shed we don't, so much, talk reconciliation, we do it. Yeah we're known for the handshake on our shirts. In reality however, we're just mates.

What's happening at Dubbo Community Men's Shed can easily be replicated in other places in Dubbo or indeed Australia. All it'll take is a willingness to work together, rather than against each other and a desire for something better.

What's happening in the shed is a community building exercise in progress. Dubbo Community Men's Shed is a caring, supportive environment. Out of such grows a community.

In conclusion, I've found community consultant/educator Paula Abood's comments on community, spot on.

Paula said: "We like to think we're community. But you can't be called a community unless you engage or interact. You can't think of community without being inclusive. One person can't build a community. It takes all of us."

Hear, hear Paula.

The road to reconciliation will, at times, be a rocky road, I think however that it's a ride worth taking.

C'mon Dubbo are you coming too?


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