Truth-telling first step towards justice and transformation: Narrm Oration

Professor Eleanor Bourke AM
Professor Eleanor Bourke AM delivering the University of Melbourne Narrm Oration for 2022. Photo: Peter Casamento Photography.

“It is time for Victoria to acknowledge the historic and ongoing injustice experienced by First Peoples,” said Wergaia and Wamba Wamba Elder, Professor Eleanor Bourke AM, who will tonight deliver the University of Melbourne 2022 Narrm Oration, titled Truth, Understanding, Transformation: Laying the foundations for change.

Professor Bourke, Chair of the Yoorrook Justice Commission, Australia’s first formal truth-telling body, will reflect on the important role of truth in creating transformational change for First Peoples.

“As the first formal truth-telling inquiry in Australia, Yoorrook provides an opportunity for First Peoples to tell their story and for other Victorians to develop a shared understanding of settlement in this place,” Professor Bourke said.

“It’s also an invitation to all Victorians to listen. Truth telling can help build shared understanding of the real impacts of colonisation, as part of a healing process leading to truth, justice, and change. To hear our story is to have a full understanding of the history of Victoria. All Victorians should understand that Aboriginal peoples have been denied their human rights according to international standards.”

Professor Bourke has held executive positions in local, state and federal government agencies, was a Co-Chair of Reconciliation Victoria for three years, a Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council Board Member for twelve years, and a Native Title Services Victoria Board Member.

Professor Bourke's Wergaia family was recognised in Victoria’s first positive native title determination, now known as the Wotjobaluk case, in 2005. This native title included five First Peoples: Wotjobaluk Wergaia, Jardwa, Jardwajarli and Japagulk peoples.

Under Professor Bourke's leadership, the Yoorrook Justice Commission is progressing its mandate to investigate the systemic injustices experienced by Victorian First Peoples in all areas of life from colonisation to the present. On 5 December, it will commence public hearings into the impact of the child protection and criminal justice systems on First Peoples in Victoria.

In her Narrm Oration, Professor Bourke will look back on key moments in her lifetime, the work of Yoorrook, and the push for transformational change in Victoria.

The Narrm Oration is the University of Melbourne’s key address profiling Indigenous leaders from around the world to advance ideas about Indigenous Australia. Narrm is the Woi Wurrung word for the Melbourne region.

This year’s Narrm Oration is held at the Kathleen Fitzpatrick Theatre, Arts West Building Professors' Walk, University of Melbourne Parkville, from 5pm to 6:30pm.