Hey Australian agriculture – it’s time to get up, stand up and show up!

Joshua Gilbert

There is a lot that binds First Nations people and pastoralists, from the attraction of the country beneath our feet to the joy watching our youth prosper over vast spanning fields. The land connects us, shelters us, and gives us hope. It’s where we both truly feel the importance of new life, the tragedies of death and the optimism for the future of our families and local towns.

However, we remain disconnected, a segregated mob, seeking similar outcomes for a better future without mutual connection. Somewhere, despite the agricultural love for land, we left the love for our First Nations people behind, those who also hold the connection to country so dearly to our identity. There are fundamental reasons why we don’t share First Nation’s agricultural prosperity on the land, in the streets or in our leadership. Instead, we battle and challenge each other over a lack of respect for values, ideas and the principles that connect us all to the country we stand on.

In a world where Indigenous pastoralists have operated in the shadows of the agricultural industry, it’s worthwhile considering when we might finally start talking about what it means to be Indigenous pursuing agrarian dreams. When will we provide acknowledgement and be allowed to heal from the history, where land silently holds us to account?

Here, on my family’s traditional country, Worimi Country, it’s hard not to see the connection required to fulfil our dreams for agricultural growth in Australia.

Worimi people, our community, remain the biggest landholder in this electorate, despite land signed over to agriculture in the 1820s. Our people chose to engage early, providing knowledge of land that was once ours to benefit Western agricultural production. We are still here, on these lands, engaging with culture, history and the new economy that overlays this place.

The unique stories of First Nations people depend on country and family history. But even now, under current legal institutions, almost 60% of Australian lands still belong to or carry interests to Indigenous people. This is directly comparable to the land management statistic that Australian agriculture use to describe production land.

What’s important for us to take away is that we fundamentally need to build relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to ensure the longevity of agriculture going forward.

We need to connect people to a common goal, bringing past wisdoms together with new technologies and farming practices to continue feeding our population while being respectful of the land. We need a shared vision, a commitment to come together and share the truths of this landscape and let the land heal us. 

I believe that the connection between us will underpin the future of our agricultural industry, from Indigenous knowledges combining with breeding livestock, activating the next generation of First Nations stockmen and women to thrive on country or planning the future of farming outside fence lines and into communities. But our pursuit for a new definition of agriculture in Australia cannot stop there; we need to consciously listen to First Nations people to collaborate in new ways. We need to recognise the importance of bushfoods and Indigenous farming techniques and how this has already worked on Country to weave with modern agriculture for new results.

Get Up, Stand Up, Show Up!

One way to do this is to connect with existing voices from Indigenous people in this space. This year’s NAIDOC Week theme tells us to get up, stand up and show up. This is a call out from Indigenous people to all sectors and needs to be heard in agriculture. We need to mature our space to increase our social licence to operate, recognising Indigenous engagement. 

We need to get up. To me, this is our industry getting up to date with society’s expectations, including developing Reconciliation Action Plans, connecting with local communities to build partnerships and listening to Indigenous Elders speak about their experiences and truths of the industry. 

Stand up. We need the agricultural industry to stand up and listen to Indigenous people and support Indigenous voices and views.  

And lastly, we need to show up. We need Western agriculture to show up and have conversations that connect us and help build a shared narrative going forward. We need to discuss the opportunities and share the past’s truths to heal and move ahead together. 

It is fundamentally important this NAIDOC week that we think about the opportunities that are presented for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people by creating these partnerships. Australian agriculture – it’s time to get up, stand up and show up!

Joshua is a Worimi man, farmer, academic and advisor at Sustainable Table. He pursues transformation through modern truth-telling, bringing new concepts to the forefront through acknowledgement of the past.