The history is fairly simple. Gina, a very good friend, and myself were talking about not wanting to go in the parade because we felt it had lost a lot of the grassroots politics of activism. We felt that we would like to do a float that had a really in-your-face political bent that was relevant at the time. And, of course, that is reconciliation.
Reconciliation is extremely important to me. I've had a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends in my life that have changed the way that I see the world, in a very fundamental way. It's also very apparent to me that there is no equity in Australia between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. That Indigenous people are extremely structurally and institutionally discriminated against. I also work as a teacher and a childcare worker and I have an incredible respect for Aboriginal ways of child rearing, the way that they build a community and sense of responsibility to a group.
The coming together of queer and reconciliation is an extremely conscious political decision. As lesbians, some of us, have a very clear understanding of the oppression of minority groups. Most of my Indigenous friends, not all, have been gay or lesbian. I think that gay and lesbian and bi and transsexual communities have maintained a white face for a very long time, in spite of the fact that there are numerous non-Anglo people involved in those communities.
The process from the beginning was that we talked about wanting to do a float. We knew a couple of people who had different skills in terms of being able to put it together. There were five of us initially, who met and talked about the viability of it. That was mainly because Gina and myself don't have float skills, we're not experienced in any way in Mardi Gras traditions. So we contacted a couple of people who were and met.
We tried to be really clear before we started about a few issues in relation to process. Then we organised a public meeting. And it went from there. It's definitely got a life of its own. It's far bigger than we ever imagined that it would be. That's completely happiness making. Because it means that there's a lot of people who are really passionate about this issue at this time. That's fantastic.
The role that we try to take now is one
where we try to make sure that the group stays on track to the original
aims which were about involvement. We felt that it was really important
that people could come in with whatever skills they had. So if they had
areas of interest that they wanted to take up and run with, that they could
do that. The rational for that is that, it seems to me that many of the
issues for non-Indigenous people around Reconciliation are related to not
knowing what to do, or how to do things, or what they can do. So what we've
tried to do is create a group where people could do whatever they could
with whatever skills they had. If people have come and
suggested something we have tried really hard to support that. That's worked really well.
Another thing we were really clear about was Indigenous input. We didn't want to be disrespectful, or expect Indigenous people in the group to take responsibility for the group. So that if there was a mistake made, something that was culturally insensitive, that we wouldn't place Indigenous people in a position where they had to okay everything and if that stuffed up that then we could absolve ourselves from any responsibility in that process. That happens a lot in relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Many non-Indigenous people are so fearful about making a mistake that a) you don't do anything and b) if you do anything you don't take any responsibility about it, you try to locate that elsewhere.
The other thing we wanted to be clear about is that people come in with different levels of experience with Indigenous people and we didn't want anybody to feel bad about that. That if anybody came to a meeting and said something that maybe I thought was appalling, or someone else thought was appalling, that they were treated gently about that. That the group could be somewhere where people had positive experiences of changing the way that Black and White relationships were, rather than experiences where if you felt you weren't going to get it right you couldn't be there.
So it's got a life of its own and it's very large and we've had some support from people from inside Mardi Gras which has been really great. I hadn't expected that because Mardi Gras is a very corporate organisation as a whole. But people have worked really hard to push for us to have access to resources and money, and they've been really charming about it. And in the same way that the group has mushroomed to be so big, it makes you really happy when you realise that people are really out there in terms of their commitment to the issue.
I hope that there is a lot of publicity about our float. That it sends a really strong message to mainstream Australians, particularly to the government that they are reading the population wrong in terms of how think people want Indigenous people to be treated, about their rights and justice.
Another really important aspect is that
as a group of three hundred people that it enhances positive experiences
of relating across the Indigenous - non-Indigenous divide. That's equally
important. For people to think that it's fun, you can do it, it's not that
scary. You may even get lucky and get a really nice relationship out of
it - using relationship with a small r, but you could get even luckier!