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Dark clouds and silver linings

13 October 2020
Finding connections in a socially distant world
From the devastating wildfires to the COVID pandemic across the globe, the year of 2020 has been downhill. But are we capable of seeing the silver lining amidst the face masks, hand sanitisers and endless isolation?

We’ve heard it once and we’ll hear it many, many more times - 2020 has been a strange year.

Here in Sydney, the smoke from the devastating wildfires had barely cleared and the raging flood waters had only just subsided, when the COVID pandemic swept across the globe and isolation in Australia began. It was March 2020 and the year only continued downhill from there.

Or did it, and are we better people now because of the adversity we have faced together? When I look back over this crazy year, I have experienced some amazing moments of unity and solidarity and with, strangely enough, people who would ordinarily be too far away to consider uniting with.

I have been told by more than one overseas visitor (during the heady, pre-COVID days of international travel), that they had thought that the Aboriginal people of Australia were like the lost city of Atlantis.  Apparently, there is the idea out there that we are gone, extinct, never to return!

I have heard some pretty out-there ideas but I suppose you couldn’t blame them. I had always been aware of the insidious national amnesia of Australians but I had never considered that it had permeated the borders and there were people around the world who also believed that we didn’t exist. Where do you even start with sharing knowledge and stories if people don’t even know you exist?

Image: Talking to the world

Image: Talking to the world

In the strangeness of 2020 I am again left speechless by the world at large.  Earlier this year, I was astounded to be contacted by international news agencies across the world to talk about the wildfires in Australia and how employing Indigenous fire practices could have ensured that this level of devastation didn’t occur.

I spoke to millions of people all over the world through media outlets like the BBC, Al Jazeera and French TV but amongst all this, by far my most memorable conversations were those with other Indigenous peoples.

Moments I will never forget happened when I spoke with brilliant Indigenous rights activists like Michelle Robinson from the Native Calgarian podcast and Shaldon Ferris of Indigenous Rights Radio South Africa. We began by connecting through the fires and cultural burning but always ended with the ways in which our lives and stories related and overlapped.

Our experiences of colonisation across the world were so similar, we knew each other’s pain, and there were no explanations required. It was so comforting but odd that I was talking to people from so far away, from places so different to Australia but we had so much in common and could relate to each other’s lives on a profoundly deep level.

We were united, once again, by adversity. Colonisation had taken so much from us but had strangely also brought us together.

So, do the events of 2020 have the capacity to bring us together? Literally, with social distancing, no, but are we capable of seeing the silver lining amidst the face masks, hand sanitisers and endless isolation?

Can we appreciate that this new world order has made the world much, much smaller and people from far away so much closer and more accessible?

I guess it remains to be seen and maybe the fast-approaching New Year will hold the answers. In the meantime, wash your hands, don’t touch your face and reach out and connect with each other (metaphorically, that is).

Written by Shannon Foster

D'harawal Knowledge Keeper