Skip to main content Skip to main navigation
Skip to access and inclusion page Skip to search input

The truth about truth-telling

07:30am July 12 2018

Professor Robynne Quiggin, speaking at a NAIDOC Week event at Westpac, says truth-telling shouldn’t be feared. (Marianne Jaques)

We all know from our own experiences that relationships need to be grounded in truth. If there are lies – whether in a marriage, friendship or among workmates – things never go well.

This is also the case for us as a nation. A platform of truth is needed as the bedrock of Australia’s national identity.

We don’t have that at the moment.

Many Australians are simply unaware of the full history of our country, particularly when it comes to the impact of European colonisation on Indigenous people. Thankfully, after much lobbying this has begun to change for today’s youth, but it certainly wasn’t taught when I was at school.

For the most part, the suppression of much of this history is because the truth can be complex and uncomfortable. There is pressure to turn away and avoid talking about colonisation and its ongoing impact.
But we, as a nation, are better than that.

We are smart people. We all have broad, lived experience. We can cope with complexity and we can survive discomfort. It’s part of the human experience. All my years of working with people around these issues shows me that we can move through it in a way that avoids creating a “them versus us” dichotomy and have conversations that are kind, gentle and respectful.

An extraordinary example of the power of truth-telling is at the site of the Myall Creek massacre where, in 1838, almost 30 unarmed Aboriginal people were killed by a group of non-Indigenous people. This was only one of many massacres across Australia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but unlike many others those responsible at Myall Creek were arrested, charged and hung for their crimes. 

At the site of the Myall Creek massacre, the descendants of both the people who were massacred and those responsible for the killing have come together over a period of time to build a memorial, unveiled in 2000, and gather there annually to conduct ceremony and remember those who died.

For me, this is one of the most profound examples where people worked through their discomfort about the truth to help the healing process.

As a nation, we have taken major strides during my lifetime towards greater reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. But our ability to speak truthfully – about both the good and bad – is a fundamental step to moving forward further.  

This notion of truth-telling underpins the Uluru Statement from the Heart – a beautiful document that is the centrepiece of the recommendations agreed at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention to achieve recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia’s constitution.

I urge all Australians to read it.

Embracing, rather than shying away, from truth-telling, and understanding that it is not about blame but taking responsibility, healing and finding an accurate platform from which to move forward, will support the path towards greater reconciliation. It will also open the door to greater knowledge of and connection with our country.

That knowledge, amassed and handed down by Indigenous people over many, many generations has a lot to offer us all.


Professor Robynne Quiggin Chairs Westpac's Indigenous Advisory Committee.

Professor Robynne Quiggin is a member of the Wiradjuri nation of central western NSW. She has lived and worked in Sydney, practicing as a solicitor and consultant with a focus on legal, compliance and policy areas relevant to Indigenous Australians including human rights, financial inclusion, financial services, consumer issues, governance, the arts and heritage. She Chairs the board of the Aboriginal Housing Office, Westpac’s Indigenous Advisory Committee, is deputy chair of Bangarra’s board, a trustee of the Australian Museum and works at the Business School the University of Technology Sydney.

Browse topics