Long Walk: Indigenous campaigners promote wellbeing and culture

Politicians, footballers and campaigners have joined thousands of Australians in the Long Walk event to support moves to improve Indigenous health and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.

It has been 14 years since AFL champion Michael Long’s momentous journey from his home in Melbourne to the Prime Minister to get the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people back on the national agenda.

Indigenous health is focal point of this year’s walk, with the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Quit Victoria both throwing their support behind the event.

"It's also a celebration of our 60,000-plus years of survival and of our beautiful culture," said Leanne Brooke, General Manager of The Long Walk. "And it provides a meaningful opportunity for the broader Australian community to come together and walk alongside us."

Thousands of people joined the walk from Melbourne’s Federation Square to the MCG in support of Indigenous reconciliation.

'Continue the conversation'

Ill health forced Essendon great Michael Long to miss this year's Long Walk.

Long on Thursday said he was unable to make the trip to Melbourne but hoped Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians would still get behind the event.

Former Essendon Indigenous players Gavin Wanganeen, Derek Kickett and Che Cockatoo-Collins have led the walk in Long's absence, accompanied by AFL's chief executive Gillon McLachlan and chairman Richard Goyder. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was also among the participants.

"I am disappointed I can't be there in person but the Long Walk is not about me, it's about continuing the conversation about how we can improve the everyday lives, education and health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples," Long said in a statement.

Long Walk promotes Indigenous health

Smoking rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are almost three times the national average of non-Indigenous people, although the prevalence in Indigenous communities is falling steadily.

In Victoria, 41 per cent of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population are smokers.

Quit Victoria’s Aboriginal Tobacco Control Program Coordinator Jethro Pumirri Calma-Holt told SBS News the health of Indigenous Australians should be kept at the top of the agenda.

“Indigenous health is something that needs to be invested in by everyone and that’s part of national reconciliation week.”

“What Michael Long did all those years ago has created a really big legacy for everyone to follow in his footsteps,” he said.

Participants of the 14th annual Long Walk in Melbourne.
Source: AAP

AMA backs the Long Walk and Uluru Statement

The new president of Australia's peak medical body, Tony Bartone, who is participated in the walk, has also thrown his support behind aspirations for Indigenous reform put forward at Uluru last year.

He told SBS News the Uluru Statement from the Heart contained the building blocks necessary to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health outcomes.

"We need to look at the actual data and the data says we are not moving far enough."

"When it comes to closing the gap on health for our Indigenous population, we need to recognise we need multi-faceted, multi-level reform."

Only three of seven targets in the government's Close the Gap program, to improve Indigenous welfare, are on track to being achieved.

He is one of many voices to come out in support of the Uluru statement that called for a permanent Indigenous advisory body to be enshrined in the Constitution.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has rejected the findings. He told Parliament that "a representative body available only to Indigenous Australians" was "inconsistent with a fundamental principle of our democracy".

Labor has said if it is elected at the next federal election it will legislate an Indigenous 'voice' to parliament.

Indigenous Labor senator Pat Dodson is chairing a parliamentary committee, due to report in July, which is investigating options to recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull takes a selfie with a supporter at the 14th annual Long Walk.
Source: AAP

'Racism is still alive'

Victoria's Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Natalie Hutchins, said the Long Walk is also an opportunity to recognise the issues still faced by Indigenous people everyday.

"Racism is still alive unfortunately here in Victoria and it’s something that Aboriginal Victorians face every single day," she said.

"A way of combating that racism is around having the conversation about culture and respect."

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Natalie Hutchins.
Source: Supplied.

The Minister took the opportunity earlier in the day to launch Deadly Questions, a new online platform.

According to the 2016 Australian Reconciliation Barometer, many Victorians feel they don't know much about the state's Aboriginal heritage, but they also don't feel comfortable asking questions, for fear of offending or appearing ignorant.

Deadly Questions will encourage people to put those awkward questions directly to Aboriginal Victorians, to learn more about their cultures, and the purpose, value and process of Treaty.

Published 2 June 2018 at 5:46pm, updated 2 June 2018 at 9:55pm
By Amelia Dunn