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The smoky waft of country lingered and a yidaki hummed the story of a dingo’s futile kangaroo chase. Wordless communication passed down through millennia.

When the words did come from Uncle Brendan Kerin they were uncomfortable to hear. Personal stories of a family decimated, of his stolen identity and a long painful journey to rediscover his culture.

That’s what the launch of the first stage of Paralympics Australia’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) was all about. A time to listen, learn and try to understand.

“This is the Reflect RAP, so it’s the first step of the process and it’s about scoping the community and reflecting on what we do as an organisation to contribute to Reconciliation,” Grace Sarra, PA’s Reconciliation Action Plan Advisor, said.

“It’s a very special day. It stirs up a lot of emotion and brings out a lot of passion in people. I think to begin with a smoking ceremony was really special, as it’s symbolic of cleansing bad spirits and connecting to country.

“Uncle Brendan, who performed the smoking ceremony for us, spoke about smelling country and I can still smell country on me right now. It’s special that that was the first touchpoint of the RAP for our staff.

They can always come back and remember that we started with the smoking ceremony, that we were cleansed and now we’re safe and protected on this passage of going on our RAP journey.”

Download: Paralympics Australia’s ‘Reflect’ Reconciliation Action Plan (PDF 5MB)


Paralympics Australia’s RAP began with the establishment of a working group in 2021 to map a meaningful way forward.

“Sport is a powerful mechanism for bringing people together and it enables important conversations that need to be held,” Paralympics Australia Chief Executive Catherine Clark said.

“We’ve committed to making the Paralympic community have this conversation in our Reconciliation Action Plan. This is the first step in that journey.”

Only 16 First Nations athletes have competed at the Paralympics, despite Indigenous people’s over-representation in the disability community. Clark said better pathways were needed.

“We can’t look at those statistics and not play a role in addressing them,” she said.

“It’s really about mapping out what are the barriers to being involved in Paralympic sport? Who can we partner with to address those barriers? What are the enablers? Where are the on-ramps into Para-sport? I think if we take this first step, and we do it right, then each and every step afterwards, we’re going to see those statistics change over time.

“There’s this sense of energy that comes from acknowledging what has been and looking to the future together. We’ve got amazing people, stakeholders, advisors, we’ve got passionate staff who want to see us change the future.”

The launch of the Reflect RAP was also a chance for Uncle Paul Calcott to explain the meaning behind his artwork, Our Story, which unites our Paralympians and Indigenous culture.

“I’m hoping this painting helps people see a more spiritual connection to this country so it’s not just green and gold, it’s also beautiful ochres and the reds and the blues and the saltwater dreaming that all become part of it as well,” Calcott said.

“I’m always very nervous. I remember doing some stuff in some communities about disability and culture and there are some very nasty people out there with deep-seated prejudices. Not everyone’s going to be grateful or happy and want to have a yarn with you. But today was one of those days when everybody was happy to have a yarn, talk about it and really want to connect and embrace and be part of it.”

By: David Sygall, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 29 May 2023