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Be Questing for Aboriginal Australia via ABM Projects.

Ivan Head
ABM’s Gifts in Wills Officer, Dr Ivan Head.

A Reflection by Canon Ivan Head: Gifts in Wills Officer

Any Australian who is looking, listening, and thinking with a compassionate heart and critical mind will want to further assist the work of advancing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia. There is much to talk about and much to do.

The Australian historian, Professor Alan Atkinson, said of the early white settlement of NSW in Volume One of The Europeans in Australia: ‘At the same time the Europeans were not only shaking hands. They were also enfolding the aborigines within an embrace from which, in principle, there could be no escape.’  At the least, this invites the sustained strengthening of cultures that have real differences between them; and encourages the capacity to enrich each other on paths ahead.

The ABM takes up the challenge of supporting and encouraging the better future of Australia as a place of co-equality amongst all its peoples, not only those who come ‘from all the lands on earth’ as the lovely song tells us, but who have been here for at least 60,000 years.

When you have read my 850 short words on ABM’s work in Australia, I encourage you to visit the web pages on ABM’s distinctively valuable work in this area: and then scroll through the succeeding pages in detail: https://www.abmission.org/pages/australia-reconciliation-program.htm. They are moving pages of highly professional and committed works.

Each heading leads a deeply informative page about how ABM helps living programs to be taken forward: Reconciliation, Wontup-Bi-Buya College, The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Council, Gawura School, Walkabout Ministries, Nungalinya College, the Diocese of North Queensland, the Diocese of the Northern Territory, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mission Grants, and Youth Engagement. I invite you to ‘take and read’ these ABM web pages – to appropriate a phrase from St Augustine’s conversion.

Aboriginal Australia is a major agenda item today. It is a hot button issue in all media, and its volatility and contained emotion (often distress) is a mark of what must go on being engaged, lest the container explode under great pressure. Whether the topic is education, health, deaths in custody, implicit and explicit racism, a voice to Parliament or the scope and significance of land rights, or Black Lives Matter, there is the fullest of agendas for Australians and for Anglicans as a distinctive tradition within Australia.

This is partly so since from one perspective, the entirety of colonisation began as a civic exercise by a nation whose established and civic religion was the Anglicanism of the day in the then Church of England.  There is a real place for ABM to continue, enlarge and deepen its programs and this can only happen with the sustained goodwill and support of all who believe in the grounds of the mission.

Comprehensive reading and curriculum work is also vital to this process. Simple clichés won’t take anyone far today.

During my first year with ABM I have begun to read and re-read my way into the stories of Aboriginal Australia and of British interaction with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as learn about and admire the brilliance of leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in many fields of endeavour. The literature to cover runs into tens of thousands of pages, some of it in original diaries and letters. Many issues remain turbulent and some are shocking.  Clarity emerges at times. Some commentators adopt diametrically opposed positions.  Sometimes I have felt like the poet and theorist James McAuley when he wrote in the poem ‘Warning’ from more than fifty years ago, ‘Beware of the past; / Within it lie / Dark haunted pools / That lure the eye / To drown in grief and madness.’ The historian and the church’s thinkers must not turn away here.

As well as any future, there is a past that is not mine to forget, not ours to forget: a past that belongs to and is remembered by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descendants of participants: all on the receiving end of the latecomers.  It is a past to be gazed at, a landscape and a people-scape to be recovered, (a landscape that includes substantive dispossession), a domain that is open to re-evaluation and which expeditiously and by good will and all the principles of justice (retributive, restorative compensatory, pastoral) and gospel-driven, may set a new and better direction for Australia. We should listen to the title of Henry Reynold’s work, ‘This Whispering in Our Hearts’. Beyond that, critical thinking on all matters is required. The past is not served up complete on a silver or even a tin plate.  It can be understood; it can be misunderstood.  Compassion, empathy and curiosity all help.

Permit me one considered aside. England had its own long internal history of dispossession from the land. Hence, the study of the Enclosure of the Commons, from the 1500s on, has something to offer. The late seventeenth century works of John Locke on warfare not dissolving the rights of the conquered to the benefits of their lands is another source, and for another place than these short notes.

The ABM Bequest Program is like a master stock for the support of ABM’s work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and for all its wider projects in the region and beyond.

As I wrote, I had the radio on and by chance this song by Yawuru singer/songwriter Stephen Pigram about his maternal grandmother came on. Why don’t you listen to it too, and get involved in your own way.? Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8VYMLs5Mzw

Thank You,
Ivan

Ivan.head@abmission.org.au