BGR Chair Allen Edwards talks History, Education, and Reconciliation

Reconciliation isn’t about talking the talk. It’s about making positive change for Aboriginal people, creating safer workplaces, classrooms and more. And proud Kaurna/Kokatha (Adelaide Plains/West Coast of SA) man, and Blackwood Reconciliation Group chair is doing just that, figuratively, and literally, he’s walking the walk. From the Blackwood Reconciliation Walk to walking into class rooms and educating.

The Blackwood Reconciliation group began in 1994 when a group of local Blackwood residents got together to hold a study circle on reconciliation for an eight weeks course and when they finished, they wanted to continue with reconciliation, so they formed the Blackwood Reconciliation Group.

Mr. Edwards told Reconciliation SA that the “BRG being a local group, they knew of the Colebrook Home in Eden Hills, and that nothing was being done with it, and they decided to focus on that site and build a memorial, so that eventually became known as Colebrook Blackwood Reconciliation Park”.

The Colebrook Blackwood Reconciliation Park is a memorial park dedicated to the children of the Stolen Generations, who’d been taken to the ‘Colebrook Training Home’ after being taken from their families.

Through the efforts of the Colebrook Tjitji Tjuta, the Blackwood Reconciliation Group, the Aboriginal Lands Trust and others, ‘The Fountain of Tears’ (1998), and the ‘Grieving Mother’ (1999) statues were erected to help remember the Stolen Generations that were held there. The statues were sculpted by Silvio Apponi.

In 2019, the group celebrated its 25th Anniversary, and as well as being the longest running reconciliation group in South Australia, is also possibly the longest running reconciliation group in Australia. The group still has up to six of the original members attend the meetings and event, of which Mr. Edwards speaks of highly, saying that “you just got to meet them, and you see why it’s been going so long.” But he also highlighted the renaissance the group has felt in the last few years, saying “But we’ve had younger people interested in the group, coming along and joining up as members.”

It’s fair to say that the successful local group is well supported, an Annual General Meeting held when Mr. Edwards was voted in as Chair, was the biggest the group had seen. That occasion was made even more special because Mr. Edwards, who’d been on and off as an active group member, became the group’s first Aboriginal Chair.

Over the last few years, Mr. Edwards tells, “we’ve worked on a number of other projects, for the 2019 reconciliation walk, we unveiled ‘listening posts’ which tell the stories of the former residents, and we unveiled a mosaic around the campfire, and we are working on a number of other projects”.

The Blackwood Reconciliation Group is still in “full swing” according to Mr. Edwards, and could last another 25 years at least. “That’s just the sort of people we have in there, they’re committed to reconciliation, they’re committed to Colebrook and the Colebrook kids, they’re so committed to Colebrook and the Tjitji Tjuta, which is the Colebrook children, are in BRG’s constitution, to look after the site, and look after the children.”

While the Colebrook Blackwood Reconciliation Park is a large focus of the BRG, they are still involved in other events to do with reconciliation. In 2019 the group held a forum on the Uluru Statement from the Heart and had 80 chairs available for attendees. However, 80 was not nearly enough. Mr. Edwards reveals the number was closer to 400. “The chairs were full, people were standing up on the sides, and even poking their heads through doors”, he exclaims with a grin. He also says that the group is well known partly because they work closely with the community. The Mitcham City council is a close collaborator, as is the local RSL, as well as Schools, Universities and other local organisations.

Mr. Edwards himself, is thoroughly enjoying his role as Chair, as the opportunities that come with it are too good to pass up. One such opportunity (thanks to Covid-19) is the chance to host a lunchtime webinar via the Zoom platform. Mr. Edwards with speak about topics of Reconciliation, the Stolen Generation, Colebrook Reconciliation Park and the Blackwood Reconciliation Group.

Mr. Edwards believes reconciliation is “coming together to achieve a common goal and having an awareness of other people’s cultures. You don’t have to agree on everything but have an awareness and just get along.”

But what he truly relishes, is being able to teach students, and the general population, about the history of Australia’s treatment towards Aboriginal people. He says that “in the past, it wasn’t spoken of. It wasn’t heard of. But truth-telling is what it’s all about now. Through my mother, I am part of the Stolen Generations, but I didn’t know about the Stolen Generations until later in life, because it wasn’t spoken about. We didn’t have people coming to our schools speaking about reconciliation or the Stolen Generations, deaths in custody, we had nothing like that.” Edwards continues with “We have Reconciliation Week, but for me, it’s 12 months of the year, and people are willing to listen, so it’s my goal to get the message out.”

To sit in on Allen Edwards “Lunch with a local Webinar”, click here.