The disproportionate impact of climate change on First Nations people and the importance of communities articulating the changes they want to see following the referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament were key themes of this year’s Charles Perkins Oration by Larissa Baldwin. Ms Baldwin, a Widjabul Wia-bul woman from the Bundjalung Nations is CEO of GetUp! and has dedicated her life to First Nations justice, climate action and a fairer Australia.
Ms Baldwin’s oration recognised the legacy of Charles Perkins as a freedom fighter and catalyst for substantive change in this country.
“Charlie was born in the aftermath of the frontier wars and the extreme violence our people faced when we were being forced onto missions. For his generation, survival was an ongoing fight, and in many cases the violence of invasion was still a living memory.
“Charlie is remembered as a freedom fighter when assimilation and segregation was widely practised in this country. In the face of that, he stood up against racism, called out hypocrisy and woke up this Nation, and that was the catalyst for substantive change in this country.
“We are entering what could be a transformative decade for First Nations rights and climate action, but my biggest fear is, if we squander this moment, we won’t have learnt the lessons of what people like Charlie taught us,” said Ms Baldwin.
If you want to understand how to deal with the climate crisis, we must first situate ourselves within an Indigenous worldview. To do that, we need to be thinking about three generations behind you, and three generations in front of you.
Ms Baldwin spoke about the increasing impact of climate change on First Nations communities, with rising temperatures and frequent floods risking the forced removal of people from Country.
“I vividly remember learning about climate change in school and seeing the temperature maps and how temperatures would rise in different parts of Australia and how sea levels would rise as well.
“It became really apparent to me that this was going to force the removal of people off Country… We are going to lose so much of our culture and language that is connected to those places. And it’s not just us, it's going to be right across the country.
“If you want to understand how to deal with the climate crisis, we must first situate ourselves within an Indigenous worldview. To do that, we need to be thinking about three generations behind you, and three generations in front of you,” said Ms Baldwin.
With the referendum on the federal government’s agenda, Ms Baldwin emphasised the importance of First Nations people as truth tellers and messengers for the change they want to see.
“The key ingredient to creating wide scale change is First Nations people articulating what they want on a broad scale. We have to say what we want and we have to say what we don’t want.
“If you can lift Aboriginal people in this moment and recognise the crises that we face, not just here, not just climate, but the issues with housing, guns in remote communities, over-policing, deaths in custody, health; if people can understand that breadth of context, and understand that what we’re talking about is our freedom and what it’s like to have control over our lives; then we can persuade the masses,” said Ms Baldwin.
In her closing remarks Ms Baldwin described the referendum as a gift to the country.
“We know that by expanding our democracy and seeing First Nations people with a seat at the table, that’s a gift that we can give to the rest of the country.”
Celebrating the University’s deep history and connection to First Nations Peoples, the Oration includes a recognition of academically gifted students through the Charles Perkins Memorial Prize. Awarded to the top Indigenous students at the University based on the highest academic results in their field, each winner is awarded $4000.
The 2022 recipients of the Charles Perkins Memorial Prize are:
Named in honour of Australia's first Aboriginal man to graduate from University – the University of Sydney – the Dr Charles Perkins AO Oration and Memorial Prize was established in 2001 to recognise and celebrate the outstanding contributions made by Dr Perkins and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to our community, country and society.
The Charles Perkins Memorial Prize is made possible through the Charlie Perkins Scholarship Trust and the University’s Indigenous Strategy and Services portfolio. The University of Sydney is proud to acknowledge the ABC as the host broadcaster for the Dr Charles Perkins Oration event, to help share this important conversation with Australians.