While the country is still self-isolating in various respects, musician Mitch Tambo says National Reconciliation Week (NRW) mustn’t be forgotten, and its theme ‘In This Together’ is more relevant than ever as we remain physically apart.
Starting on Wednesday May 27, NRW will mark 20 years since 250,000 Australians walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and bridges in other cities around the country, to ‘bridge the gap’ between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians.
As a First Nations artist, Mitch said traditional language and music help bridge the years of dispossession of land and culture.
“I think when we look at the power of language and moving forward, it’s just incredible because it wasn’t that long ago we couldn’t speak our language or practise our culture,” Mitch told HuffPost Australia.
Under various government protection policies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as the Aborigines Protection Act 1909 in NSW, Indigenous Australians were prohibited from speaking language on Aboriginal reserves and missions.
In 2017 NSW passed legislation, the Aboriginal Languages Bill, to preserve Aboriginal language. At the time, NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Sarah Mitchell, said in parliament, “People were arrested for daring to speak their language in public, and children were removed because their parents or grandparents were heard uttering their language”.
For a musician like Mitch, it’s not only important to sing in his Gamilaraay language, but to have it heard by the masses across Australia as a tool to reconcile.
Last week he “had a moment” while watching Indigenous Australian TV reporter Brooke Boney on the ‘Today’ show. “It filled me with hope,” he said.
While promoting Mitch’s new single, ‘Love’, Brooke said, “Wherever you are Mitch, yaama yaama”.
The word ‘yaama’ means hello in Gamilaraay, and Brooke recalled greeting Mitch with it the last time they met.
“She shouted out to me and played a bit of my new single, Love, and discussed that we’re from the same tribe,” said Mitch.
“She ended the segment after celebrating my new song and giving people that little cultural exchange, and ‘Wherever you are Mitch, yaama yaama’. I thought, ‘Wow what a beautiful thing that we’ve got’. A beautiful First Nations woman on mainstream TV every morning and here I am as a contemporary language artist and that’s being all celebrated on mainstream TV.”
Brooke also regularly used ‘yaama’ when greeting listeners during her stint on Triple J a few years ago.
In 2018 she explained, “Obviously I’m a big believer in sharing our culture and I think that we’re incredibly lucky that we’re home to the oldest continuing culture of anywhere in the world — older than the Romans, older than the pyramids.
“And if there’s one wish that I have, it’s that people appreciate the enormous and incredible contribution that Aboriginal culture could make to our country.”
Mitch said it’s “incredible to be in this position, to be able to sing in my language and celebrate my identity and belonging”. He said it’s an opportunity to recognise “my ancestors who have been here since the beginning of creation spoke this language”.
“When we look at reconciliation and music, I just think it’s so important to encourage people and First Nations youth to engage in identity and self, which is such a great starting point because as soon as you connect with that, you start to own it.”