Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) is a national network of organisations and individuals working in support of justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia. During the tide of public concern over the Howard governments initiative to amend the Native Title Act, ANTaR was formed in 1997 as a broad coalition of individuals and community groups including human rights and legal groups, ecumenical groups, trade unions, as well as social justice, arts, educational and women’s organisations. ANTaR’s primary goals were to support the National Indigenous Working Group (NIWG), influence the federal governments proposed changes to the Native Title Act, and promote public education regarding the specifics of land rights and reconciliation. Although based in Sydney initially, ANTaR has since grown into a national organisation.
One of ANTaR’s most innovative projects was the Sea of Hands, which has been very effective in gaining public attention and support for social justice and reconciliation. The Sea of Hands comprise flat plastic hands bearing the names of more than 300,000 citizens who have signed their support for Indigenous Native Title Rights and Reconciliation. Made from the colours of the Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Australian flags – red, yellow, black, blue, green and white – the hands are mounted on metal stems that are then fixed in the ground in a variety of patterns. Taking a different design wherever it has been planted across Australia, the Sea of Hands is Australia’s largest living artwork and an important public education project. The moveable sea and smaller puddles of hands have travelled the country displaying the conviction of many Australians.
A number of ASG members went with the Sea of Hands on its journey across Australia in 1998 and we were all thrilled to see the Sea planted on Manly Beach during NAIDOC Week 1999. Local Koori artists were consulted on the design for Manly, which was an adaptation of the symbolic serpent design created on the beach at Broome from the west coast to the east! Patrick Dodson, who had travelled from Broome to speak at several big events in Sydney during NAIDOC Week, also visited the Sea of Hands on Manly Beach. The event was named Community Event of the Year by Manly Council and the award was presented to ANTaR on 26 January 2000. This was the second year running that an event focused on Indigenous issues had received this award (the ASG had received it the previous year).
For information about the Sea of Hands or other ANTaR initiatives, check out www.antar.org.au.