• A record crowd walks across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 'Walk for Reconciliation' as part of Corroboree 2000. (NEG)Source: NEG
Reconciliation Australia CEO Karen Mundine says there's still 'hard work' to do despite some progress since the historic Sydney Harbour Bridge walk two decades ago.
Keira Jenkins, Shahni Wellington

25 May 2020 - 3:09 PM  UPDATED 25 May 2020 - 3:27 PM

Twenty years ago more than 250,000 people walked over the Sydney Harbour Bridge for reconciliation.

Over six hours the record crowd carried flags and banners and made their way across the Harbour, in what was called the largest political demonstration ever held in Australia.

It was a historic moment which Reconciliation Australia CEO Karen Mundine said inspired the nation, and set the mood for the next 20 years of reconciliation.

But Ms Mundine told NITV News, there's still a lot to be done on the 'journey of reconciliation'. 

“Some of the great things we have seen over the past 20 years have been the apology to the Stolen Generations, we’ve seen this move that came out of the Uluru Statement and movements for greater self-determination and sovereignty, conversations about treaty, things that just weren’t on the table 20 years ago,we’ve seen all of those advances” she said.

“But it also shows up where we’ve still got these gaps. We’re still seeing the rates of child incarceration and also children being removed from home continuing to rise, we’re seeing some of our health statistics going a little bit backwards.

“We’re not pretending that there aren’t still challenges ahead but I guess what we take out of that from a reconciliation point of view is that there are so many more people that are out there willing to support us and walk with us on this journey.”

But Ms Mundine said the significance of the bridge walk should not be forgotten.

“It was just such a game-changing moment, it just gave us so much hope on the cusp of a new century, of ‘what do we want to aspire to as Australians’,” she said.

“As an Aboriginal person I actually felt really supported by the broader community in a way that we hadn’t really seen before.

'Strive for reconciliation'

This year, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Ms Mundine said Reconciliation Week will look a little different. 

There will be no gatherings of thousands, no physical events, instead this year’s Reconciliation Week offerings have all gone digital.

The 2020 theme ‘In this Together’ has taken on greater significance. Ms Mundine said no one had any idea how prophetic it would be.

But she said, no matter what, Reconciliation Week must go on.

“Regardless of whether we’re in a pandemic or a crisis, regardless of whether it’s about race relations or difficult relationships we still actually have to strive for reconciliation,” Ms Mundine  said.

“Normally we would have that community in our immense activities, this year we’ve got those things happening virtually.

“I’d really encourage lots of people to get engaged and get involved.”

And it’s the work from our homes, schools and in our own communities that Ms Mundine said can be the most important.

“Moments like the bridge walk, like Corroboree 2000, are great moments to celebrate and come together as a big nation,” she said.

“But really the hard work of reconciliation happens in the places where we live, the places where we work and the places where we socialise.”

Funding secure until 2023

The federal government announced on Monday morning that it will continue its core funding for Reconciliation Australia, committing $10.8 million until June 2023.

Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, said Reconciliation Australia has been improving relationships for two decades.

“Through its Australian Reconciliation Barometer and Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) program, Reconciliation Australia has provided significant momentum to empower people to build a better future for all of us.” 

“Tens of thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are benefiting from job creation, education opportunities and business transactions created through RAP actions,” Minister Wyatt said in a statement. 

What's on NITV for National Reconciliation Week 2020
Enjoy a special programming slate for Reconciliation Week 2020, exclusive interviews with Pat Dodson, powerful documentaries and a Warwick Thornton film collection.