Australian of the Year Finalist, football superstar Adam Goodes, sees Australia Day as a survival story and a chance to celebrate his Aboriginal culture.
The Sydney Swans star joined other state and territory finalists at a special lunch in Canberra on Saturday ahead of the announcement of the winners.
People should enjoy celebrating what it means to be Australian but also show empathy towards indigenous people who may find the day painful, Goodes said.
“There is a bit of heartache and sorrow out there,” the dual Brownlow medallist told reporters in Canberra.
“People are still hurting.”
Last May, Goodes expressed his deep distress after being called an “ape” by a 13-year-old girl supporting Collingwood late in a match at the MCG.
“The messages we send out there about racism need to be strong and sent from the top down,” he said.
His mother Lisa, a member of the stolen generation, has come up to Canberra to share the day.
“She’s very proud, it’s a nice reward for her as well for the sacrifices she’s had to make for us boys to have a better opportunity in life than what she had.”
With two AFL grand final wins under his belt, Goodes says it’s an honour to be a finalist in Australia’s top award and be recognised for his community and mentoring work.
The NSW finalist hopes to use his public profile to help raise awareness of the push for constitutional recognition of indigenous people.
“There’s nothing in the constitution right now that says Aboriginal people are the first Australians,” Goodes said.
He hopes to see a successful referendum on the issue in the next couple of years.
“It isn’t about us wanting to get our land back, it’s not about wanting compensation, it’s about wanting recognition that we were the first Australians.”
Senior Australian of the year finalist for WA, Fred Chaney, who served as Aboriginal Affairs Minister in the Fraser government, believes the referendum process should not be rushed.
“This is the best time in a lifetime for the possibility of Aboriginal advancement,” Mr Chaney told reporters.
“I think we should have the referendum when the Australian people are ready for it and that will take some more work.”
Mr Chaney reflected on the wildly successful 1967 referendum which allowed indigenous people to be counted in the census and for parliament to make laws concerning them.
“That was a 10-year campaign … it was a brilliant campaign and I’m old enough to remember handing out how-to-vote cards,” he said.
“We haven’t had the same amount of time to build up the momentum yet but that’s precisely what we’re trying to do at the moment.”
In 2012, the Gillard government put on hold a referendum on recognising Aborigines in the constitution because of a lack of public awareness.
Instead, the parliament passed an Act of Recognition as a stepping stone to constitutional change.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott Abbott has committed to release a draft constitutional amendment within 12 months.