Reflecting on National Reconciliation Week: Morning Tea at CPA Allambie Heights

When Arakwal and Bundjalung man Drew Roberts was a primary school student in the New South Wales Northern Rivers region, he spent almost as much time in the principal's office as in class.

To show respect to his teachers, who were older, had more knowledge and were often female, Drew would cast his gaze downwards. He was showing respect, just as his mother had taught him to. But to his non-Indigenous teachers, Drew came across as rude and uninterested. 

This illuminating anecdote was one of the many insights that Drew shared with Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA) employees at a National Reconciliation Week Morning Tea at CPA’s Allambie Heights office yesterday. 

The event began with a deeply engaging talk and Q&A, followed by a morning tea with classic snacks like brownies reimagined with native ingredients. 

Drew shared stories from his upbringing as one of six boys. He spoke about the invaluable lessons his mother taught him, and his school principal, about First Nations etiquette.  

Drew also explained the intricate kinship networks within his culture, contrasting them with European traditions, saying, “Unlike European royal families, we don’t marry our blood.”  

His own vast kinship network was spiritually enriching but romantically limiting. Drew joked that he was blocked everywhere he went and eventually decided to marry a woman from South America.  

Drew also stressed that despite pervasive views, First Nations culture is not homogenous. There are hundreds of nations, each with their own unique languages and customs. Drew gave examples about the differences in languages from his mother’s and father’s sides of the family and explained that Aboriginal culture is matriarchal, with surnames and identities linked to one’s mother and her country.  

Throughout his talk, Drew emphasised that knowledge in Aboriginal Nations is communal, meant to be shared rather than owned. This principle aligns with the vision of his company, Shared Knowledge, which aims to contribute to a thriving community grounded in Responsibility, Respect, and Reciprocity.

For First Nations people, Country represents a profound, symbiotic relationship between individuals and their ancestral lands and waters. Country is more than a physical place; it embodies respect, responsibility, and reciprocity, intertwining the land and water with cultural knowledge and identity. Drew’s description of his connection to Country echoes the words of Palyku novelist and illustrator Ambelin Kwaymullina, who said that Country is family, culture, identity, and self. 

This event highlighted the rich diversity within First Nations cultures and communities, acknowledging the many different nations and language groups that form an integral part of Australia’s past, present and future identity.  

To be good allies to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, understanding and celebrating First Nations peoples’ culture, languages, and relationships to Country is essential. 

The morning tea was not just a learning opportunity but a step towards deeper understanding on CPA’s reconciliation journey. By engaging with the stories and knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, we at CPA can foster greater respect and inclusivity within our community.