Humanity and Human Connections


I’ve just returned from the funeral of Michele Harris (OAM) as I sit to write this.

Michele was one of the non-Aboriginal “Warriors” who has crossed my path and supported the causes I have been championing over a couple of decades. Her name kept turning up as one of our supporters when I was running cross-cultural seminars around the country in the 1990s. Originally I knew her as living in Canberra and every time we were going there, she was on the job getting information about our seminars to people whom she knew would benefit from understanding more about the situation for the Yolŋu of Arnhem Land. Yet I had never really connected with Michele. At times she was just a name on our supporters list that was given to me.

Then came the Northern Territory Intervention in 2007, and Michele was there again. This time supporting communities and Aboriginal leaders in their stance on what they clearly saw as unjust government policy.

It was Aboriginal people themselves who called the report “Little Children Are Sacred” from the board of enquiry in the Northern Territory.

                                         Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle; “Little Children are Sacred”

                                         In our Law children are very sacred because they carry the two

                                         spring wells of water from our country within them

It is a tragedy that the government, the bureaucrats and the media didn’t really understand this report, instead visiting another level of violence on the remote Aboriginal communities of the Northern Territory. We need to start including people like Yolŋu and other Aboriginal people, and that includes their systems of law and governance rather than excluding them and just doing more things supposedly to ‘solve the problem’.

Michele worked tirelessly to get this message out. She campaigned hard and gave the hand of friendship to many Aboriginal leaders who were trying to get their voice heard. She assisted by producing many publications, sharing information as widely as possible and challenging governments at every turn. She was an amazing and inspiring example of what mainstream people can do to truly support Aboriginal people. She came from a place of shared humanity and clearly showed you don’t have to live in a remote community to be involved in fostering understanding and justice.

It was at my 2nd son’s wedding in 2009 that I met Michele again and the penny still did not drop. In fact it wasn’t till the 2nd celebration that my son and his partner Beth Harris were having in Melbourne that I finally realised the Michele Harris who was now my son’s mother-in-law was the Michele Harris who had had supported our cause for so many years.

As I listened to Jeff McMullen recount Michele’s life story at her funeral, I was struck by her dedication to seeing the real humanity in other people, especially those who were marginalised by mainstream communities around the world. I was also struck by the thought: can we really know someone and understand why they take particular positions as they might take life? The thought reminded me of a great teacher who once said, “Be careful how you judge other people because it’s by that standard you will also be judged (by the greater forces within the universe)”. We need to stop judging Aboriginal people and start to really get to know them, as human beings, with shared human connections, not ‘problems’ to be solved. There are real clear definable answers to empowering people and helping them have control over their own lives but nobody seems to want to hear about them.

Let’s put a stop to the colonial policies of the past, which we keep running out again and again and again, and let’s find real new ways of empowering Aboriginal people who struggle to hang onto the goodness of their own cultures and laws. Yes there are problems. Let’s not make them worse. Let’s take a leaf out of Michele’s book and see that we are dealing with is a human problem that needs real human answers.


Richard Trudgen, June 2015

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About Richard Trudgen

Born in Orange NSW and trained as a fitter and turner, Richard went to Arnhem Land in 1973 for one year voluntary work. He stayed 37 years, learnt language and trained in community development work. He wrote “Why Warriors Lie Down and Die” in 2000 and established Yolŋu Radio in 2003. He was CEO of Aboriginal Resource and Development Services (ARDS) Inc for 10 years, and during this time developed discovery education methodology. He runs ‘Bridging the Gap’ seminars and training workshops, and speaks at conferences and events. Richard wants to build an e-learning school for Yolŋu people using both their own language and English so Yolŋu children/adults have an easily accessible schooling system that works for them. He is currently writing his next book “When a New World Drops in on You”.