Elizabeth McEntyre and her children at the beach

Equality at every age: what it looks like for First Nations Peoples

This World Elder Abuse Awareness Day we invited several people to write a short piece on the theme of Equality at Every Age. Dr Elizabeth McEntyre shares a story of hope and perseverance in the face of inequality.

Last updated: 15 June 2022

Thank you to our Ancestors who love us and are with us always, guiding us on how not to be afraid to embrace our true cultural selves; to know our purpose and to live with integrity; to learn and improve every day; to be kind and generous towards each other; and to make time for what really matters in life.

For numerous First Nations and non-First Nations Peoples I know and love, the past few years have needed a lot of energy and staunchness day after day just to function. Caring for self—looking after mental, physical, spiritual, psychological, and social and emotional wellbeing—moved consistently between attention and inattention, impacting cognitive and physical health, feelings, and connection to Country, culture, family, kinship networks and Community.

How uplifting it is that we can now be together, share together, love together in our own determined and fulfilling ways.

Equality and reconnection

That said, most of my time last week was spent refilling my cultural cup and dumping some of my accumulated cultural load by connecting with many First Nations Peoples of differing ages who belonged to diverse lands and waters.

At the beginning of the week, I experienced togetherness with workers from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Education Unit at GP Synergy to discuss business and strategy and to strengthen team unity. GP Synergy delivers the federally funded Australian General Practice Training (AGPT) in NSW and the ACT.

To end the week, I gathered with other Elders and senior people at Mindaribba Local Aboriginal Land Council, which covers Maitland and the Lower Hunter Valley areas of NSW. After months of being apart, we could reconnect, have a cuppa, speak of Country, listen, laugh and make critical decisions.

This sitting, listening, sharing, laughing and reflecting amongst our young and old people is what equality and equity comfort looks and feels like for me.

For generations, First Nations Peoples have been fighting for the right to have equality and equity in wellbeing, for each other and for our families and Communities. As truth-tellers, we share, explain and discuss our personal and mostly hurtful lived experiences and stories in meetings, conferences, reference groups, focus groups, workshops, seminars, webinars and so on, to be listened to, to be heard, to be the decision-makers.

Irrespective, things are not getting better for First Nations Peoples, because the constructs of equality and equity have not been reached and will not be until we become self-governing and able to determine what equity and equality looks and feels like for us.

So, to better express the importance of equality for First Nations Peoples, several of the younger and older mob that I rocked with during last week kindly lent me the following views.

‘Equality at every age is important because:

  • we are all humans

  • every age has something to contribute, particularly our Elders, who have knowledge and wisdom

  • it has significant intergenerational impact at all ages

  • sometimes it is not enough

  • we should not be ignored

  • it is an equity thing too – to bring people up to equity

  • it allows us to feel safe, and because we deserve it.’

The stories told

The week ended with the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, and I visited one of the garage sales in my hometown with a dear friend. From one cluttered table my friend picked up a fine china plate adorned with a photo of British ships anchored in a cove, marine guards with guns and distinctively clothed convicts unloading and organising wooden barrels. Cheekily, he suggested that I should buy the plate for its historical significance and value.

The older woman who owned the plate, now for sale, turned it over to show me that the picture on its front was from an original artwork titled Ships of the First Fleet, Sydney Cove by marine artist Ian Hansen. His artwork had been used to decorate a limited number of plates to commemorate the 1988 Australian Bicentennial.

As she continued to tell me about the importance and worth of the collectors’ plate, which had probably cost her some big money to purchase, it was obvious that she was attached to the piece with its colonising and settler story told through Hansen’s art.

Although I wanted to, this was not the right time and place for me to start educating about other truths related to those ships, like the lots of wrongs and injustices that have continued for over 250 years and First Nations’ ongoing resistance.

The woman wanted $10 for the plate, which was a lot more than I was willing to pay because it had no such related appeal for me, so back on the table it went. A few minutes later, another woman, who had been listening to the conversation, quietly sold me the plate for $2.

In a bizarre kind of way, this woman’s treasure is a significant find. The plate with Hansen’s colonial art commemorates one magnificent truth: despite those ships arriving and the crimes, harms and hurts inflicted against us, we are still here.

And, in the face of ongoing inequality and inequity, we are amazing with our gifted cultures of love, togetherness and deep belonging to Country, Family and Community.

Author: Dr Elizabeth McEntyre

Elizabeth McEntyre is a Worimi and Wonnarua Woman who descends from the Jonas family and belongs to salt and freshwater Country spanning Port Stephens, the Great Myall Lakes, the Barrington Tops and the Hunter Valley in NSW. Elizabeth is a Doctor of Social Work and Criminology, and a mental health social worker in disability and criminal justice.

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