• The Sea of Hands celebrate two decades since the first installment in front of Parliament House. (AAP)Source: AAP
The first Sea of Hands was held in front of Parliament House in 1997 as a physical representation of support for native title and reconciliation. Twenty years later, NITV looks back on the historic movement.
Rangi Hirini

12 Oct 2017 - 12:19 PM  UPDATED 12 Oct 2017 - 12:19 PM

The Sea of Hands has become a symbol of the reconciliation.  

More than 20 years ago the group Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) started a petition to rally non-Indigenous support. 

“The Sea of Hands stands for boarder community standing in solidarity with and in support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Andrew Meehan, the National Director of ANTaR told NITV News.

On October 12 1997, the first installation of the Sea of Hands saw over 50,000 hands on display at Parliament House in support of native title and reconciliation. 

At the time there was a lot happening in Indigenous Australia. Andrew Meehan said many felt that reconciliation was coming undone by the then Prime Minister, John Howard. 

Mr Meehan said the then Howard Coalition government was “winding back” native title and had made a “poor response” to the Bringing Them Home Report.

The report, which documents the Stolen Generations experiences, was tabled in Parliament in May of 1997. 

It was the first time many Australians heard about the Stolen Generation and the events which saw Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children forcibly taken away from their families. Despite growing calls for a national apology to the Stolen generation in Parliament, the Howard Government refused to issue one.

However, Mr Meehan said in the last 20 years Australia has moved forward and was progressing.

“There is far greater awareness of the true history of this country,” he said.

Reconciliation Australia CEO, Karen Mundine told NITV News in order to achieve reconciliation we need to build stronger relationships on trust and respect, that are ‘free of racism’.

“The Sea of Hands is a powerful visual depiction of the significant level of support that non-Indigenous Australians demonstrated toward native title, and reconciliation more broadly.”

“Community support is particularly relevant to the reconciliation process because reconciliation, at its heart, is about the relationship between the broader Australia community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” she said.



 ANTaR will be commemorating the 20 year anniversary next month inside Parliament House.