"It's a People's Movement" the late Dr Evelyn Scott, Sydney Harbour Bridge Walk

"Will you take our hand? Will you dare to share our dream".

On a Saturday morning twenty years ago in Sydney, this question was asked by the late Dr Evelyn Scott AO, chairperson of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (CAR).

The invitation was extended to all Australians in the hope they would answer the following day, by walking in solidarity for truth, justice and equity.

In Sydney, the venue was the iconic Harbour Bridge but in cities and towns across the country, people walked past monuments and statues, travelling their own main streets to show a united commitment to the cause.

Dr Scott's ambition for national reconciliation between First Australians and the broader community was very specific. Her speech the day before the historic walk expressed high expectations, but the potential reward would be an enormous social impact.

The nation had been presented with an opportunity to evolve. 

"In true reconciliation, through them remembering, the grieving, and the healing, we can come to terms with our conscience, and become as one in the dreaming of his land."

What this great campaigner could not have anticipated while amongst a friendly crowd of supporters, was the sheer number of people who would indeed, show up and share in her dream the following day. People gushed out of trains at Milsons Point, floating across the bridge all day to everyone's surprise and delight.

Emotions were high and mixed. Some were joyful and proud. Others angry; many in mourning, having suffered the impact of colonisation. Vast numbers were demanding a national apology to the Stolen Generations, which Prime Minister John Howard steadfastly refused to give. 

John Howard would not utter the word Sorry on behalf of the nation nor would he journey the Harbour Bridge with his fellow Australians. Always a keen walker himself, daily he could be spotted strutting across the globe and the country. But at this celebration of walking, he was conspicuous in his absence.

When Dr Scott was asked before the walk commenced, if she was disappointed in him, she graciously replied "No, that's his choice, if he doesn't walk.

"As long as the people walk. I'm mainly interested in the people walking, because they're the ones that have the power, the people's movement."

Dr Scott's concern that the people would not show up, is an insight into the woman from Ingham, far-north Queensland, who convinced hundreds of thousands of Australian's to 'walk the talk' of reconciliation on a cold, windy day on the 28th of May, 2000. Her worry wasn't a simple case of 'hostess anxiety'.

Dr Scott wanted an undeniable mandate for change, and she needed big numbers to prove the point.

"I'm hoping that as many people as possible march to give us the mandate so that we can go ahead with the issues that the government has to deal with". 

The CAR final report recommended a referendum to recognise our place as the First Peoples, and a Treaty.

Families and children were also key stakeholders, "I am hoping that everybody that comes along, families and children, enjoy themselves... A lot of the council members have families that they're never home with, so I hope everybody gets together and have a wonderful day." 

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, it is hard to believe anyone doubted the public interest in walking over the bridge for Reconciliation. But back in May 2000, before Facebook could declare our personal interests, before Twitter or Instagram could illustrate our support, it was difficult to gauge support for social causes.

Remembering the dream

I understand people hold frustrations with the concept and process of Reconciliation.

But today is a day we should remember the incredible feat that Dr Scott achieved. 

It took a dignified woman in her sixties to inspire such widespread enthusiasm, and compel people to walk.

The Council's vision was for;

a united Australia which respects this land of ours: values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage; and provides justice and equity for all. 

For all Dr Evelyn Scott's efforts, I will be forever grateful that I was lucky enough to be on the bridge, when her dream 'that we can be as one in the dreaming of this land' came to life. 

“This article was first published on NITV. Read the original article.”

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