A thousand-person volunteer army will be mobilised to create a national ‘yarning circle’ as part of public discussions around the Uluru Statement of the Heart, a forum has heard.

Mayor Darcy Byrne announced the initiative to a packed Marrickville Town Hall on Thursday night, saying Sydney’s Inner West Council will support the training of volunteers as part of building the ‘Yes’ campaign for a referendum that, if successful, would enshrine an Indigenous voice in the Australian Constitution.

Greeted with a standing ovation, the honourable Linda Burney, newly elected Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, spoke to the audience of  “truth telling” and “building consensus” in the next three years of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s government.

She said the aim was ‘bipartisanship’ with the Opposition on the issue of a referendum and that “compromise and negotiation may be necessary”. 

Senator Pat Dodson said Indigenous Australians had been “seeking a voice” from the Government since 1938 and now was the time to “bring honour to this nation”.

“We need to enshrine voice in the constitution so that a light can be constantly shone on (Indigenous) issues,” he said. “You are part of the first step.”

He then added, “Get out there and start yarning”, in reference to yarning circles, an Indigenous cultural forum that is used to practise speaking and listening.

Yarning circles have been practised for thousands of years by Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders to tell stories and to pass on cultural knowledge. They are seen as a safe space in which to start a conversation.

There is no more practical change than giving our people a meaningful voice.

The power of conversation was at the heart of the evening.

Dean Parkin, campaign director of the From the Heart campaign, said we need to have “thousands of conversations” across Australia and that it would be: “People like us [to] get it done.”

Burney drew comparisons with other successful grassroots campaigns from Australian history including Women for Whit, which saw women getting out into the community building support for Gough Whitlam’s 1972 run for government.

She said: “We need all of you to get out there to every Probus, Rotary Club, town hall and community group.”

Dodson added: “We need support in a majority of states for a referendum.”

“It is a three-year election cycle, so time is crucial… we want a commitment to a referendum this term.”

Parkin said there was a need to rewrite the national story so that what unites us is “not mateship, barbeques or pretty landscape… but a connection to the oldest continuous culture on earth”.

“There is no more practical change than giving our people a meaningful voice,” he added.