St Vincent’s Church, Redfern
St Patricks, Church Hill,
The 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.
That 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.
As Paul Keating said in his memorable speech at
We 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.
As I stood there in the open-air gathering in
I 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
The Protestant Colonial poet Henry Kendall, when McEncroe died in 1868 wrote of him:
In fiery times when Faith is faint,
And Doubt has many words to say,
We’ll often think how well this saint
Kept fear away.
Aborigines 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 with Aborigines.
It 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 trust.
And 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.
Archbishop 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
By that time the graphic words used by
But 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.
To 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.
1 Cor. 4, 9-13.
I ask you; to whom do those words most aptly apply in
For us whites, reconciliation starts not with guilt but with the acknowledgment of the truth. Unspeakable atrocities were perpetrated.
Guilt cannot be passed down, for Christ has taken guilt away. Guilt is unproductive, indeed harmful.
But 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.
There was denial and fantasy and there was white self delusion in Henry Lawson’s lines in 1891.
They needn’t say the fault is ours
If blood should stain the wattle.
The 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 going in.
When 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 us free.
I mourned again for the Murray Tribe
Gone too without a trace,
I thought of the soldiers” diatribe,
The smile on the Governor’s face.
You murdered me with rope, with gun
The massacre my enclave,
You buried me deep on Me Larty’s run
Flung into a common grave
You propped me up with Christ, red tape,
Tobacco, grog and fears.
Then disease and lordly rape
Through the brutish years;
Now you primly say you’re justified,
And sing of a nation’s glory.
But I think of a people crucified –
The real Australian story