Bring everything to the table

The recently introduced Kitchen Table Conversations is an initiative to promote a better understanding of the Voice. Stemming from a joint effort by NATSICC and Jesuit Social Services, its core principles can also be adapted to other projects as well.


By Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ

As the Referendum on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament draws nearer, the public conversation about it becomes more shrill. The heart of it risks being lost in the heated babble of many voices. For that reason, the recently launched Kitchen Table Conversations, a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) initiative to promote the Voice, is so timely. It is also beautifully designed. It was a privilege and a pleasure for the Jesuit Social Services media team to be invited to cooperate with NATSICC in its production for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday, celebrated on 2 July. 

The heart of Kitchen Table Conversations is the desire to encourage listening as well as speaking, personal reflection as well as public declarations, respectful conversation rather than debating, and openness to a change of heart and mind rather than reinforcement of set attitudes. It encourages friendly encounter where sour conflict is too common.

The brochure will help members of parishes, schools and other groups to bring people together to understand and prepare for the Referendum. It is designed especially for people who would like to initiate this conversation but are daunted by the practical tasks of organising and leading meetings. It offers a conversational and detailed guide. This is worth describing because it could be adapted for other projects, too.

The first step is to advertise the meeting and make available resources to prepare for it. Then the program suggests how to organise the meeting by finding people to promote the meeting and share other responsibilities, share photographs and attract people to attend by writing for parish or school newsletters and making contact with NATSICC.

The conversation itself begins by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land and naming the ground rules for the meeting: the freedom of participants to share or be silent and their call to come not as experts but seekers, to accept that they may disagree, and to remember why they have gathered.

The host then invites the group members to reflect quietly on times when they have been deprived agency in things that mattered to them, and to share what they had feltThen they are asked what difference it may have made if their agency had been respected. This personal conversation prepares for a presentation of the ways in which Indigenous Australians have been deprived of voice, video clips and other resources, distribution of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and an explanation of what is entailed in the Referendum.

That exposition is followed by conversation about what needs to change, some final thoughts, and discussion in small groups about what each person might do, including hosting similar meetings in the parish, school or among friends.

This is an ambitious program, accompanied most helpfully by the length of time that should be given to each step. (We all know that the best way to wreck any good idea is to finish meetings about it well after the promised time!) The detailed outline of the Kitchen Table Conversations suggests how serious the Referendum on the Voice to Parliament is, the respect owed to each person engaged in it, and the need to take action to commend its passing. It offers a model of what the public conversation should be.

The care and the experience that have gone into designing the Kitchen Table Conversations reminds us of the importance of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council within the Catholic Church and the gift that Indigenous Catholics offer. It also reminds us of the privilege we are all given in being invited to cooperate with them in their demand that their voice be heard.

View the NATSICC – Resource encourages prayer and conversation ahead of Voice vote. 

View the Voice to Parliament – Kitchen Table Conversation Guide

Feature photo by Ondrej Machart on Unsplash.