First Nations leaders are looking to the future and considering alternate options to tackle entrenched disadvantage, despite all six states voting No to enshrining an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

Key points:

  • Indigenous leaders are hopeful about the future despite the No vote
  • International recognition and a national healing strategy are among the ideas
  • But some believe the No vote is a devastating setback

While many are disappointed, others are hopeful that the momentum of the referendum will offer a path to improvement for Indigenous people.

On Minjerribah, North Stradbroke Island senior Goenpul man Dale Ruska’s plan does not include constitutional recognition, or treaty and certainly not a legislated Voice to Parliament.

Mr Ruska wants all Australians to understand that his people have “international legal options”.

“I believe that we could only have any advantages to success as a people if we go to the International Court of Justice to have our First Nations sovereign rights recognised independently,” he told the ABC on his home island.

“And from that, hopefully, take our place at the Assembly of the United Nations and then use the international treaty models as the way forward.”

It’s Mr Ruska’s hope that the First Nations of Australia will pursue Aboriginal sovereignty outside “colonial common law and legal frameworks”.

“The way the parliament and the laws of this country function … it’s continued and progressed using systemic racism from the start, when there was refusal to acknowledge that the country was occupied,” he said.

PM’s post-referendum speech criticised

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it was “not the end of the road” for Indigenous recognition, vowing last night to “continue to listen to people and to communities”.

“Our government will continue to seek better outcomes for Indigenous Australians and their children and generations to come,” he said last night.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has vowed to continue to do better for Indigenous Australians.(ABC Broken Hill: Bill Ormonde)

But Mununjali Yugambeh and South Sea Islander Chelsea Watego, a professor of Indigenous Health at Queensland University of Technology, was disappointed by Mr Albanese’s response.

“It is disappointing that the prime minister couldn’t use this moment to actually tell the truth now about who we are as a nation. We are not a nation of a fair go,” she said.

“Tonight we know it is a nation of a firm No to blackfellas on anything in this place, and that’s shameful.

“The one hopeful thing out of all of this, for me, is that this may reinvigorate a black political movement across this country, where we are not appealing to the so-called radical centre, which effectively is the far-right, and actually fighting on our terms for what we want.”

Eddie Mabo’s daughter still determined

Sitting in her home on Waibene (Thursday) Island in the Torres Strait, Eddie “Koiki” Mabo’s eldest daughter Betty Mabo struggled to process the result.

Ms Mabo said her father, who secured recognition for his people as traditional land owners in 1992, would have supported the Yes campaign.

Betty Mabo, daughter of Eddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo, struggled to process the result of the referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.(ABC Far North: Christopher Testa)

But Ms Mabo said the vote would not sway her people’s determination to fight for their rights.

“As First Nation people and as Torres Strait Islanders, we are not going to give up because we need our voice to be said in parliament,” she told ABC.

‘A time for healing’ says Reconciliation Australia

In a statement, Reconciliation Australia said “the results are devastating”, and “now is a time for healing”.

“We are determined to continue the journey of reconciliation and remain confident that away from the noise and clamour of the recent campaign, millions of Australians will ensure that the status quo does not remain.”

Speaking in WA’s south-west, Bibbulman man Garry Calgaret said he had been disappointed and frustrated by the toxic nature of the debate.

“I’ve even got into that trap and got a bit narky with people,” he said.

Garry Calgaret (left) says the country needs to move forward from the toxicity of the referendum campaign.(ABC South West WA: Georgia Loney)

He said the country now needed to move forward from the referendum and find a new way of addressing the issues facing Indigenous Australians.

“I just hope people can sit down and work out ways to carry on and find a way to deal with the issues that a lot of our people suffer under,” he said.

No voter laments ‘failed thinking’

In Broome, entrepreneur and No voter Johani Mamid said the referendum had exposed failed thinking among leaders in the Aboriginal community.

“Nearly half a billion dollars down the drain that could have been used to contribute to projects or programs that we have a bit more confidence are actually going to make a difference,” he said.

Broome business owner Johani Mamid voted against the referendum and says the result is ‘not the end of the world’. (ABC News: Erin Parke)

A Yawuru and Karajarri man, Mr Mamid owns and operates multiple businesses in Broome, including cultural tours, pushing the profits he earns into multiple foundations to support the local community.

“Our sense of independence has given us comfort in knowing if this referendum wasn’t successful, we could keep doing what we’re doing in terms of contributing.”

He said the result “wasn’t our last chance”.

“We can still do things within our community to help our people, and we still have options to speak to matters affecting Indigenous people,” he said.

Call to end division

In north-west NSW, chair of the Murrawarri Peoples Council Fred Hooper called for healing.

Mr Hooper voted No because he felt the referendum proposal didn’t go far enough.

“We should be talking about how we heal our First Nations because we have been divided by this campaign and we’ve been divided by this referendum,” Mr Hooper said.

Fred Hooper is advocating for a national healing strategy.

“I think there should be a national healing strategy put in place and that strategy should include bringing our people back on country and putting out feet on Mother Earth and letting Mother Earth heal us.

“I think people are wanting truth telling and treaty making or agreement making to finally settle this conflict that has gone on between the First Australian’s and the Australian’s that came after that.”

‘Business as usual’

Voting in Kalgoorlie, Noongar man Stephen Morrison said he wouldn’t be deterred by the No win.

“It’s business as usual; we’ve still got work to do,” he said.

“We’ve still got people to help, families to reach, communities to impact – so we continue on as usual.”

But fellow Yes voter Shaneane Weldon expects the referendum’s failure to set Aboriginal recognition back decades.

Sheneane Weldon at a polling place in Kalgoorlie on referendum day.(ABC Goldfields: Giulia Bertoglio)

“All of the work all the elders and all our people have done over the years; it’s going to be pushed back 50-plus years,” Ms Weldon said.

“Australia needs to ask itself, ‘what have we done to the First Nations people of Australia? Why won’t we listen?’

“We only want recognition [and] we want to have a say in our own affairs.”

Sadness in SA

The defeat of the referendum was met with dismay and sadness at a large gathering in Adelaide’s southern suburbs.

Several hundred people gathered to celebrate Kaurna culture featuring singing and dancing at a Marion cultural centre.

Many in the audience kept in touch with the referendum count during the night, including cultural centre employee Nasyah Turner.

Yes campaigners in Adelaide were despondent as the referendum results came through.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

“It’s pretty devastating,” she said.

“We’ve been fighting for our voice for thousands of years, I watched my grandma, I watched my dad and now watching us fight for our voice and pretty sad how it hasn’t come through.”

But she hasn’t lost her optimism for the future.

“I think it’s important we have hope, we’ve got younger people coming through here all the time, we’ve got it (cultural training) in school and universities,” she said.

“I think we do have a bright future ahead of us, working together as one, one nation.”

‘Harness the goodwill’: Tasmanian leader

Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania chair Michael Mansell said he wanted to see the Yes campaign’s significant volunteer numbers be used to campaign for further reforms, including dedicated seats in parliament.

“We have got to find a way to harness that goodwill, and that can be done in two ways: to get them onto the treaty and truth-telling campaign, and on the campaign for designated Aboriginal seats in parliament,” he said.

Tasmanian palawa elder Rodney Dillon said the Yes campaign had been successful in being able to engage tens of thousands of Australians around issues affecting Indigenous communities.

Tasmanian elder Rodney Dillon described the referendum result as “heartbreaking”.(ABC News: Alexandra Alvaro)

But he – and others at a Yes event in Hobart – were devastated by the referendum result.

“This heartbreaking result comes after rampant online disinformation in Australia about the consequences of the referendum, and the reverberation of the racist myth of Terra Nullius, the false premise of ‘nobody’s land’ upon which Australia was colonised 235 years ago,” Mr Dillon said.

Tasmania was the first state to be called for the No vote.

Additional reporting by Matthew Smith, Bindi Bryce, Ros Lehman, Andrew Chounding, Giulia Bertoglio, Tom Robinson, Lauren Smith and Rosanne Maloney