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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

A little more ‘yuma’ will go a long way

Protesters opposed to the White Australia Policy demonstrate in 1966. Photo: State Library of NSW/Australian Photographic Agency

“Only when the truth is known to the entire nation can we take that vital step to draw a line under the colonial mindset and celebrate the unique wonders of our country and its native creatures – our Aboriginal inheritance,” writes columnist ROBERT MACKLIN.

“YUMA Robert”. This intriguing greeting arrived at the head of half a dozen emails in the last several weeks as the referendum approached. 

Robert Macklin.

They were sent by two pleasant and highly intelligent women from two very different social circles.

At first, I thought it was a joke I’d missed and was too embarrassed to question them. Finally, when another arrived yesterday, I did the sensible thing and consulted Dr Google.

The answer changed my whole appreciation of the referendum and the consequences of its loss. 

Perhaps you know it already, but if not, “yuma” is simply the Ngunnawal word for “hello”. And I’m told its use as an opening to emails and other messages is catching on with Canberrans (and others) for reasons that go beyond supporting the “Yes” case.

Even without its Aboriginal source, I think it’s a great compromise between the formal “Dear Someone” and the awkward transition to “Hi Someone”. And it’s so much nicer than the English “Hello Someone”, which totally lacks the friendly nature of the “yu-ma” syllables.

It’s an area where change is the rule rather than the exception. “Mr”, “Mrs”, “Ms” and “Miss” have virtually disappeared from the introductory address; and whether it’s email, the phone or the electricity bill, first names seem to have become the custom… just when I was starting to be comfortable as “Mr Macklin”.

But obviously, the Aboriginal origin is an opportunity to incorporate something special into the Australian lexicon; and clearly, it’s a spin-off from the great exposure we’ve had to the Aboriginal world throughout the campaign. 

It might not be the most significant one. Better evidence for that is the bloodbath of the savage religious violence in the Middle East; or the vile nationalist ravages of the Ukraine-Russia artillery barrages. The comparison with the Australian reaction to our disagreement could hardly be more striking. 

It was a wise decision by the Aboriginal leadership to take a week of silent mourning and deliberation before returning to their quest for the equality that is their due. And I can guarantee the new strategy will not involve the violent shedding of Australian blood in massacres and kidnappings.

Indeed, it looks like the leadership will do what should have been done in the first place: a well-planned and managed truth-telling process. It must expose the horrors visited upon them by the settlers and their British guns; but it can’t stop there. 

White oppression didn’t end with Federation. The White Australia policy included the Aboriginal people and their progeny. The 20th century was no Dreamtime; it was their living nightmare. 

Only when the truth is known to the entire nation can we take that vital step to draw a line under the colonial mindset and celebrate the unique wonders of our country and its native creatures – our Aboriginal inheritance.

Most states are continuing their steady progress on treaties. Peter Dutton’s people in the LNP have missed the bus to the future, but he’ll be off at the next political stop. 

The rest of us will toddle along each side of the centre line, rising to the pleasures of the rough mateship that unites us. Along the way, we will pick up the identities of the language groups, and their tribal names as our cars pass through their ancient borders.

Gradually, I suspect, we’ll adopt the Aboriginal words that fit neatly into the polyglot “English” we inherited from the 1788 mob. “Yuma Robert”, I reckon, fits that particular bill. 

And I do get a chuckle from the Aboriginal word for “goodbye” to end our messages to our Victorian friends.

It’s “yarra”.

robert@robertmacklin.com 

Voice result a cold-hearted ‘no’: Grant

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