Aboriginal occupation of Australia stretches back more than 65,000 years, with its ancient past bringing a wealth of knowledge and culture.
But this year’s theme for NAIDOC Week – Always Was, Always Will Be – represents more than just a nod to history.
Worimi and Bundjalung woman, Kath Butler, who is the Head of the Wollotuka Institute at the University of Newcastle, says the theme is also about an ongoing influence.
“I think we often talk about Aboriginal occupation of Australia as being 65,000 years,” she says.
“Even since I started school, it’s been pushed out – it was 30,000, then 40,000, then 65,000.
“But what we don’t think about is, okay, yes it was always Aboriginal land, but that’s going to continue into the future – Aboriginal knowledges and cultures are not just about this ancient past, they are also things that are relevant for the future and are things that are going to guide us in new ways.
“In 2020, we’ve seen some examples where that’s really relevant – so things like fire management practices, where ancient knowledges provide us with ways of not just managing but understanding our land.
“I think that’s what that particular slogan speaks to.”
NAIDOC Week 2020, which will go until Sunday 15 November, acknowledges and celebrates that our nation’s story didn’t begin with documented European contact, whether in 1770 or 1606, with the arrival of the Dutch on the western coast of the Cape York Peninsula.
It states the very first footprints on this continent were those belonging to First Nations peoples.
While this year’s event is being celebrated differently due to COVID-19, Professor Butler says it’s crucial to continue the tradition.
“Any time we have these events that reoccur year after year, they are because they speak to something really important,” she says.
“And NAIDOC speaks to that opportunity to celebrate, to learn, to come together.
“It’s also [a chance] to address the unfinished business that we have – so whether that’s things like Black Lives Matter, how to protect our environment, and things like Closing the Gap.
“In the midst of that celebration, there’s the opportunity for us to recommit ourselves to addressing those issues.”
Newcastle’s traditional NAIDOC Week march has been cancelled due to the pandemic, but the university will host a small one on its campus on Friday 13 November from 9am.
It will be livestreamed on the university’s Facebook page.