Michael Coutts-Trotter speech June 2021 @ Myall Creek


NSW Department of Communities and Justice

I pay my respects to Elders past and present of the Gomeroi nation. And acknowledge special thanks to Aunty Susie Blacklock for inviting me and my family to be here today.

I’m honoured to be part of the official opening of this cultural performance space.

A great community facility like this doesn’t just pop up.

It has to be imagined, worked for, funded, built and then looked after.

So congratulations to the Friends of the Myall Creek Memorial and everyone else who helped make it happen. And a shout out to colleagues from Create NSW who funded the project.

This isn’t just any cultural performance space.

It’s unique because of where it is, as part of the Myall Creek Memorial precinct.

Gatherings and performances here will have a special poignancy and power because of where they take place.

The frontier wars in Australia were bloody and brutal.

Against all odds, First Nations peoples fought to protect their lands, lives and cultures from being taken and destroyed.

There were horrific massacres in many places in NSW and Australia, but there’s no other site like Myall Creek.

Because here the truth is known, the truth is agreed by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and, most importantly, the truth is told.

There’s a scene in a book called Typhoon where a hurricane is sweeping down on a sailing ship.

The crew of the ship are terrified. They beg the captain to turn the ship around and run away from the hurricane.

He does the opposite. He points the ship straight into the howling winds, and, as he does, he tells his crew:

“Facing it. Always facing it, that’s the way to get through. Face it.”

Myall Creek shows that we can face the truth, and that we must if we are going to get through the storms in relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

Truth is the basis for reconciliation.

It is remarkable and inspiring that the descendants of the victims and survivors, as well as descendants of the perpetrators of the Myall Creek massacre, come together to remember the past and express shared aims for the future.

The atrocity that took place here was one awful event among much larger and concerted efforts to eliminate Aboriginal cultures

– forcing people off country, separating children from families, forbidding people to speak their languages, banning rituals and ceremonies.

The dances, the songs, and the stories we’ll enjoy this afternoon are entertainment, but they’re also triumphs of resistance, adaptation and survival.

Aboriginal cultures have a 60,000-year history, but they are living cultures.

They encompass incredible things like the Brewarrina fish traps, said to be one of the oldest human-made structures on earth.

And they contain stories, dances and songs that bring people together, lift the spirit and help to heal pain.

Some of these have been preserved for countless generations, some contemporary like Roger Knox’s Koori Rose or David Leha’s Human Behaviour.

This cultural performance space will give non-Aboriginal people the opportunity to listen, learn and better understand the richness that Australia has in the unique heritage of Aboriginal people.

And, I fervently hope, Aboriginal children and young people will come here and take immense pride in their unique birthright

– their place in families and clans and nations, their connections to country, the wisdom of their Elders, and the strength and resilience of their communities.

Thank you.