• Thomas Mayor at Garma. (Living Black )Source: Living Black
Despite the government’s rejection of the Referendum Council’s report, the Uluru Working Group is still diligently working for change. Living Black sat down with former Uluru Working Group Co-chair Thomas Mayor at the Garma Festival last year.
Staff Writer

24 Jan 2018 - 1:37 PM  UPDATED 24 Jan 2018 - 3:13 PM

The move towards constitutional recognition has long been on the minds of Indigenous Australians. 

In May 2017, the historic Uluru convention was held after the culmination of a series community dialogues around the country, closely involved in this process was Thomas Mayor, the former Uluru Working Group Co-chair.

"When the ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’ was received with standing acclamation we decided that there had to be ongoing representation from the grass roots people that were at Uluru and so a male and female were selected from each of the regions, the regions went away, decided who their reps will be, elected them and also the youth that were at Uluru went away and decided who they wanted to represent them," Mr Mayor told Living Black.

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"So all up we have 29 people because the Torres Strait chose um a youth to represent them as well and they are just your average people you know, they have their day jobs, but they are the group that are dedicating their time, and putting in the effort to try and see the statement and reach an outcome that is what we wanted.”

The ensuing key recommendations from the conference were an Indigenous voice to parliament enshrined in our constitution and a Makarrata commission.

“Look there was obviously a lot to discuss; there was a lot of debate and robust discussion,” said Mr Mayor.

“I think, nobody really knew what would come out of those. I think all of the points of view were recorded and I saw a lot of effort being made to make sure there were representatives from all sides of the discussion you know whether you’re purely about sovereignty and overturning the constitution, you know or if you thought that treaty was the only answer, that all those views were represented and um, it was amazing to see a consensus come out of Uluru after all of that.”

The regional dialogues that were held in the lead up to the Uluru Convention were crucial in shaping the final decision.

“I think it was a process that was unique, historical, very important to be able to move forward. As a person with a union background, when I got involved in the dialogue, and heard about the 13, or the 12 dialogues originally it was going to be, and Uluru, I thought wow, what an opportunity, you know, what an opportunity for our people to build power by understanding what we want. To have so many people involved in a process and then being able to fight for that I thought, that had to be grabbed with both hands.” 

Criticism that it would just be an advisory body without power are misguided said Mr Mayor.

“Well right now what do we have? We have nothing. In regards to advisory, we have nothing but our own grass roots power and that’s very important you know, and that should continue.” 

The other recommendation from the Referendum Council was to establish a Makarrata Commission which would be all about truth telling and agreement making. 

“So that’s the culmination of what we called for at the Uluru convention which was basically truth and treaty," said Mr Mayor.

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"Truth wasn’t one of the options that was  designed in the discussions to make sure it was thought through, it was something that came so strongly out of every dialogue and then out of Uluru itself that people, our people want the truth to be told about our history, what happened, where the massacres were, you know, how we’ve been oppressed, how we continue to be oppressed in the very recent past and the present. 

Following the national convention; the Referendum Council have presented their final report but the matter does not end there for Mr Mayor.

“Well the Uluru Convention considered that and it’s, you know the struggle continues you know. We are still on a path to Makarrata, um you know, that is you know the culmination of what we are saying we need to achieve, truth and treaty is still on the agenda and we have to keep fighting on like we always have but we need to understand that the ability to affect the rule book which is the constitution that the parliamentarians must follow, um the ability to affect that so that this body is something that can be built on, that cannot be easily removed, that is given the functions that we need our people to have through a proper, elected representative body is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”