Vincent’s Church, Redfern
Patricks, Church Hill, Sydney
one subtle bequest of the colonizer to posterity is
the myth. The myth, the enslaving myth that is a very
special sort of downright lie. It is like a pernicious
virus that pervades the human psyche. In the Aboriginal
world it is invasive, the instrument which allows the
original Invasion to occur afresh every day.
is what I want to point to today, in this Week of Prayer
for Aboriginal Reconciliation - to that one thing that
permeates the psyche of many White Australians, which
distinguishes us from pretty well all Aborigines, our
seemingly inexhaustible capacity for self deception
people are not fools - they never have been. Right from
the beginning they have been observing and noting in
detail the alliance of white people including white
Christian missionaries with the cruel colonizing power.
By and large, they have decided not to have a bar of
either. Today I want simply to suggest that we each
go personally to Aboriginal people and ask for their
help in extricating ourselves from the cursed capacity
of denial which lies like lead on our consciences.
Paul Keating said in his memorable speech at Redfern
took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional
way of life. We brought the diseases, the alcohol. We
committed the murders. We took the children from their
mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion.
It was our ignorance and our prejudice and our failure
to imagine these things being done to us. With some
noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human
response and enter into their hearts and minds. We failed
to ask “How would I feel if this were done to me? As
a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing
degraded all of us.
I stood there in the open-air gathering in Redfern
in that summery gala atmosphere, I saw what I had never
yet seen in all my years - the tears welling up in the
eyes of countless Aborigines who had believed that they
would never hear a Prime Minister of Australia say that.
imagine that you people who frequent St Pat's here must
have a real pride in the memory of the Irish priest,
John McEncroe, the first parish priest of this Church.
As early as April 1834, before the first Catholic Bishop,
John Bede Folding had even arrived in Australia,
McEncroe was speaking of the Aboriginal people as "the
rightful proprietors of the soil"- He spoke of the "problematical
conversion of the Aborigines" thereby showing a healthy
distrust of the then current European methods of envangelising
indigenous peoples. He suggested that if there were
other tribes in other nations who had embraced the "mild
sway of Christianity", they should first be consulted.
He was more than a century ahead of his time in respecting
Aboriginal spirituality as possessing its own right
to be. (The 2nd Vatican Council would declare that rightful
honour for all non-Christian religions. Yet there are
still white Christian missionaries in Australia
who can't even hear the message to stand clear.) McEncroe
was particularly derisive of the fundamentalist antics
of certain white missionaries claiming to have won aboriginal
converts and personally drawing on large amounts of
Government funds to increase their merino flock. He
defiantly claimed that the black man was only obeying
"the first dictate of nature" by repelling the white
invasion of his hunting ground - these "lovely forests"
which he had held "in- peaceful occupation". McEncroe
was surely one of Paul Keating's "noble exceptions"
because he subsequently named and criticised Sir George
Arthur, the King's man, the Governor in Tasmania
for exterminating the Aboriginal race. Instead, he publicly
charged the British authorities to adopt the truly Christian
policy of "doing unto others as you would wish to be
Protestant Colonial poet Henry Kendall, when McEncroe
died in 1868 wrote of him:
fiery times when Faith is faint,
Doubt has many words to say,
often think how well this saint
could see when white missionaries were compliant with
and subservient to the British Crown, so they rejected
them out of hand. That is why McEncroe's friend and
fellow Irishman, John Joseph Therry was fully acceptable
to Aboriginal people. Certainly it was in that period
between 1826 and 1837 when his Government salary had
been cancelled and the Colonial Office refused to negotiate
with him on any issue, that John Therry lost his own
heart to Aborigines and won theirs so fully. I would
argue that his seething alienation from the occupying
power was an intrinsic condition of his pastoral success
was true in the case of Fr Therry in the 1820's, as
it is still true today that Aborigines respond with
instantaneous intuition to the undivided heart and uncompromised
allegiance towards the poor. It is by no means an indefinable
or rare quality. It goes by the name of plain human
we catholics who each stand today under our own personal
challenge in this Week of Prayer - have we not the right
and duty to ask "where was the Catholic Church on the
fateful Australia Day Massacre of 1838 at Waterloo Creek
NSW, where up to 400 blacks lay dead?" Ironically it
was the 50th Anniversary of the Invasion, and the Bishop
of Sydney was calling for prayers of thanksgiving to
God for the blessings bestowed on the Colony. There
were no pastoral letters sharing any of the anguish,
where he should have spoken loudly and openly throughout
those months when the daily papers were crammed with
the debate on whether blacks were simply vermin.
Polding is on record as making a plea for Aboriginal
land rights in 1845. On the other hand, John Hosie,
the Marist Father, in his excellent book "Challenge"
recontextualises Polding's life by showing that there
was much to be desired in his pastoral attention to
Aborigines. In 1869 Rome
nudged the Australian Bishops into a call for the cessation
of the bloodshed. But then followed the long drought
of more than a century when the Catholic Bishops remained
silent about Aboriginal rights. Judge Roger Therry,
reminiscing in 1860, admitted with some alarm, that
as the law stood in the Colonial Government, Aborigines
had the right to vote. That right to our shame was taken
away. The Catholic Church said nothing, as it said nothing
in 1%7 during the Referendum when white voters of Australia
showed enough compunction to include Aborigines as persons,
in a move certainly not spear-headed or even adverted
to by the Catholic Church.
that time the graphic words used by St
to describe apostleship-in-action could have been applied
with most accuracy to the aboriginal people.
it seems to me God has put us apostles at the end of
his parade with the men sentenced to death; we have
been put on show in front of the whole universe, angels
as well as men …..We have no power but you are influential;
you are celebrities, we are no-bodies.
this day we go without food and drink and clothes; we
are broken and have no home……We are treated as the offal
of the world, still to this day, the scum of the earth.
Cor. 4, 9-13.
ask you; to whom do those words most aptly apply in
us whites, reconciliation starts not with guilt but
with the acknowledgment of the truth. Unspeakable atrocities
were perpetrated. Great
was unquestionably guilty, and countless settlers and
convicts followed suit. The Catholic Church was silent
for too long.
cannot be passed down, for Christ has taken guilt away.
Guilt is unproductive, indeed harmful.
shame is another matter. We do share the shame whether
our ancestors came on the First Fleet or we are new
migrants who came on the last plane, we all share the
shame. We must all remember that not one of these good
things which we non-Aboriginal Australians enjoy today
- benefits which are the envy of the world, which seem
to sparkle the more in the Australian sunlight, not
one of these good things have been attained without
the wrenching distress and the grieving, starvation
and dying of Aboriginal people in the past.
was denial and fantasy and there was white self delusion
in Henry Lawson's lines in 1891.
needn't say the fault is ours
blood should stain the wattle.
real truth should be reflected in our shame that the
golden Australian wattle had already been drenched in
blood. Unacknowledged truth has a way of setting iron
bands on the soul. The paralysis chokes. And unacknowledged
truth also has one of those perverse ways of imposing
a sadness and a false guilt on the victim's heart. As
a child can carry the hounding guilt of a father's abusive
betrayal of trust, so many Aboriginal people can carry
a false internalised image of themselves that the perpetrating
coloniser has created for them. It is true that shame
brings its own embarrassing confusion. But there is
a single exit from that confusion. It is by letting
go of the grand, deluding myth, so pervasive in the
white psyche as to cause us to brandish hollow sounds
of what we call "Australian pride", so invasive of the
Black world as to assure them that the Invasion is still
Aborigines notice that we non-Aborigines are beginning
to see that our liberation is bound up with theirs,
the healing power of truth will begin to set each of
mourned again for the Murray Tribe
too without a trace,
thought of the soldiers” diatribe,
smile on the Governor's face.
murdered me with rope, with gun
massacre my enclave,
buried me deep on Me Larty's run
into a common grave
propped me up with Christ, red tape,
grog and fears.
disease and lordly rape
the brutish years;
you primly say you're justified,
sing of a nation's glory.
I think of a people crucified –
real Australian story
by Fr Ted Kennedy