He reflects here on: Australia Day, the history and results of colonialism and Christianity.
I’ve shared many times about my own life within a Church context of me having a racist attitude; I’ve been racist against white people.
But my racism came out of having experienced racism against me. That’s not justifying my racism but it came out of having experienced it against me.
The turning point for me was becoming a Christian which changed my life completely. For me that brought a lot of healing.
To be able to make a complete turnaround from my own racist attitudes because of my life, my parents’ life and grandparents the way they were treated as Aboriginal people.
So for me it’s been Christianity that has helped me survive through some difficult moments throughout my journey.
And coming to the realisation that people who are racist against Indigenous people or against me; discovering that it’s not about me but that it’s about them and their attitude. For many years Aboriginal people have been told you’re no good.
You grow up with an inferiority complex.
What it's like for many Aboriginal people
Prior to colonisation Aboriginal people certainly had their own society, their own system and structure. When Europeans came they failed to recognise structure and life, so assumed there was no system in place; 'hey these people aren’t even human'.
It’s that attitude that this country is built on. It dehumanises a particular group. When you call people other than who they are...you dehumanise them.
We need to correct that and acknowledge it. For Aboriginal people acknowledgement is such a powerful thing. For myself as an Aboriginal person I don’t want anything except to be acknowledged. For a long-long time that acknowledgement hasn’t been there.
White domination comes, takes the male out of his role to his wife, to his children and community and there’s shame.
They become small, not important; their role is taken away as men, as leaders. They become embarrassed because they no longer hold that place in the family anymore. I’ve seen that with lots of men that lose their role and responsibility as the male.
It’s like if I came to you as a married man and I took away your role and responsibility to your wife and your children and your home and I dominate you. I tell you where you work, when to work, how to live and I will pay you rations.
What does that do to you and your wife?
It causes all sorts of issues and problems.
Your children watch and they see you fall apart and they see that you are no longer you. You become what the dominant culture want you to become and that’s small, little and nothing.
I invade you
For me that’s what invasion does.
I invade you. I not only invade your land but I invade you as a person. You no longer exist.
A lot of the old people they gave stupid names like King Billy, Pelican and Jacky Jack. Back home we have a births registry book going right back to European settlement. You can see that some of the missionary people said you’re now this or that; you’re no longer this person.
So it’s not just invading land it’s invading people. You’re no longer who you are.
But Aboriginal people are saying, hang on, we’re here. This is who we are. That’s the reason for things like a Tent Embassy.
We’re here this is who we are and damn you, you’re not going to change me. You done it to my grandparents and you done it to my great grandparents and you’re not doing it to me.
So yeah, some people are angry but you would be too if I invade you. Remember, not your land, but you. It’s like I’m invading your family.
Is Australia Day offensive?
I’m still working through that. I think it’s important to celebrate, I mean, I don’t want people not to celebrate Australia Day. But you celebrate it with an acknowledgement in your head and heart that this has come at a cost to a particular group of people.
Well let’s celebrate because it is a wonderful country. It really is. Let us also acknowledge the huge cost of a people that are still suffering today.
The role of the Church
As human beings when we see or feel or experience injustice we have to stand up and speak out against those sorts of things.
Certainly in Australia, particularly with the Aboriginal people, there have been huge injustices. That’s on so many levels.
As Aboriginal people we continue to remain at the bottom of the ladder on social structures in society – in health, education, employment.
We remain at the bottom and so when there are injustices it’s a humanitarian thing for people to stand up and name those injustices.
Because when we don’t, when we don’t speak out, when we remain silent, we participate in the injustice.
The Church is the one place where we do stand up and we do name the injustices, and we call them what they are.
The Church should be loud and it should be clear and it should be precise in what it does.
That’s the challenge for us as a Church.
We’re great at doing overseas stuff. I think overseas issues are important but you know the old saying about “clean your own back yard up”.
That’s what we should be doing as well as the international stuff, hey let’s do some really good honest work here first.
While we remain silent my people continue to die, they continue to not receive an education, they continue not to be housed properly, they continue to lack employment opportunities.
I want to say to the Church that you’ve got to speak up so that people can hear, so that governments can hear you when there’s injustice in your community, stand up and be counted.
With this Australia Day Tent Embassy stuff that happened, let’s not make judgement, let’s not take a left or right view. Somewhere in the middle the truth lies, and as a Church let’s not look left or right because when we do we begin to make a judgement.
I worked out a long time ago that white people aren’t going away. They’re not going back to England or wherever they may come from and the sooner I understood that, the better it was for me.
I had to work out, okay how do I live here, how do I live together.
The thing we can do for Aboriginal people is to equip them to live in this society. Not take away who they are. As Aboriginal people we have to live in two worlds. But how do I live in this western world? You want me to live in this world, these commentators; you want me to get on with it, to build a bridge?
Equip me. Equip me to survive in this world, because I don’t know how to.
And that’s what we’re seeing, I think, in lots of Aboriginal communities, people surviving, trying to live and we’re not equipping them.
It’s like me taking you out in the bush and leaving you and saying there you go mate, you do well.
You’ve got to survive mate, have a good life, enjoy.
You survive sometimes by instinct. You don’t cope so what do you do? You drink alcohol you take drugs to cope with everyday stuff.
Just get over it
When I listen to Andrew Bolt and others, I do want to get on with life, I do want to build a bridge, I do want to get over it but you’ve got to equip me.
It’s the journeying together; it’s about appropriate education, appropriate housing, appropriate health services, appropriate employment. It’s about proper negotiation, consultation with Indigenous people to what their needs are. It’s about equipping people with the right skills to live in this ever-changing society.
Because I want to, I want to live, I want to enjoy life, I want quality of life. My parents didn’t have it, my grandparents didn’t have it but by gee I want it.
It’s hard for lots of people to begin, when you take away authority from them, when you take away who they are, you become institutionalised. You’re being told what to do, how to do it, when to do it. You become institutionalised. A lot Aboriginal people, that’s their experience.
You’re continually told what to do and how to do it and you become dependent upon the institution.
Aboriginal people, before white settlement, had no concept of poverty, had no concept of welfare dependency. European systems create poverty, create welfare, they create dependency.
We’ve got to begin a process of helping Indigenous people not becoming dependent on the system.
You’ve got to teach me, you’ve got to show me this new way.
“…you want me to get on with it, to build a bridge?