Tuesday, August 11, 2009

on indigenous peoples

One of the differences between Australia and New Zealand that has fascinated me over the years is the vastly different ways in which they have addressed the issues of the rights of indigenous peoples. Australians, particularly within the evangelical church, just seem to ignore the issue.

Not any more.

Dr Peter Adam (Principal, Ridley College in Melbourne; a favourite author of mine on the subject of preaching and pretty conservative theologically) has just given a most remarkable lecture with the title "Australia - whose land?"

The Sydney Morning Herald has picked up on the lecture and there is a similar story in The Age from Melbourne.

WOW - this one is going to cause a stir. They'll be talking about it for years.

Good on him!

nice chatting

Paul

6 comments:

georgenz said...

Just reading the 2 news links certainly makes reading the lecture a must as it certainly looks fairly challenging.

Greg said...

Wow! This is really very good. Good on him! I read SMH every morning but didn't pick it up. Excellent lecture. Thanks for pointing this out Paul.

Having lived in New Zealand and Australia I too have noticed the different attitudes to the indigenous peoples along the lines you mention. I think there are (at least) 3 reasons. First, there are proportionally less indigenous people in Australia: the current proportion of Aborigines in Australia is 2% (if I recall correctly); way less than here in NZ. Second, they are less visible: Not just because there are less of them, but because they mostly tend to live away from the cities on reservations etc., we just don't notice them and therefore don't think about them. Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose. Third, the absence of a treaty: For all the failings of the Treaty of Waitangi, I think the establishment of such a thing early on in NZ's history is part of the reason for the differences between how Maori's are viewed and treated now.

The first two of these are probably obvious, the third maybe a little more contentious. None of the reasons justify our apathy. But the fellow's questions about the church leading the way makes you wonder whether the church in NZ could take a similarly more active role in restitution.

Significant food for thought here.

Greg

Paul said...

thanks, greg - helpful insights

i know things have been changing a bit more in Oz more recently. Movies like Rabbit-Proof Fence and Australia help make the invisible more visible. But maybe the evangelical church in Australia has an opportunity to get in earlier than the church in NZ did, particularly if someone as widely respected as Peter Adam is going to talk like this.

thanks again

Geoff Pound said...

Thanks for your post Paul.

Having had a foot on both sides of the Tasman for some years, you are right to say there have been differences in the way Aussies and Kiwis have addressed the issue of the rights of their respective indigenous peoples.

To say "Australians, particularly within the evangelical church just seem to ignore the issue" is wrong.

Evangelical churches in Victoria (to be specific and to speak from first-hand involvement) were very active in the annual Sorry Day movement and marches from circa 1998 and the Baptist Union of Victoria addressed these matters regularly at its Assemblies.

Baptists will have great memories of participating in acts of reconciliation at its Assembly in 2000 with aboriginal people present.

Since then it is always hard to know what to say and do after you've said 'Sorry' but the journey onwards has involved many active steps in theological education among aborigines, various projects in Melbourne's inner city and the Baptist Union appointment of an aboriginal worker to develop ministry in the eastern region of Gippsland.

At a national level the Baptists have been active through its aboriginal ministries, especially in Qld, the NT and WA.

I cannot speak comprehensively on behalf of other branches of the evangelical churches but I am aware of a concerted effort in many churches in Australia.

As always there is never enough that is done and Australian evangelicals can do much more.

Will the address by Dr Adams cause a stir? I don't think so, in the church generally. People (especially former Ridley students) may be surprised to hear him speaking of these dimensions and say, 'At long last..."

But it may be for Peter and for you and me a case of what gets reported and making judgements accordingly.

I appreciate the link to the articles.

I am glad to see Peter receiving and accepting an invitation to address NSW Baptists.

I am heartened by Peter's unequivocal statements about 'genocide', the 'stolen' generation, his recognition of the church being implicated in this evil and his call for a coordinated recompense.

This statement is fine and needs to be made over and over but it is 10 years too late. Where was Peter when the issue was gathering momentum in the 1990s? If he was saying these things then, they were not reported as this lecture has been.

Ridley College appeared then to be carving out a niche as being above this sort of activity. The gospel being preached and taught did not appear to include this prophetic word calling for practical reconciliation. According to Ridley students, this strand seemed to be absent in the life of Ridley College (and was one of the reasons why they chose to go to Ridley). In fact, other evangelical Colleges were often criticised for grappling with these aboriginal issues in their College life and lectures and speaking of reconciliation involving property from the pulpit.

I too, have benefited from Peter's books and addresses on homiletics but I think they would be stronger still if they embraced more the social and prophetic dimensions that are apparent in this Sydney lecture.

Paul said...

Very happy to be corrected, Geoff. Afterall you know the context far better than I do. But in frequent and brief visits to Oz over 20 years I always come home thinking this stuff.

As I clicked I thought to myself I probably need to soften that sentence that you picked up on. I think the point I want to make is that the Aussies have been far slower to engage these issues than the Kiwis - and I find Greg's suggestions for the reasons for this helpful.

You mention the year 2000 which proves my point a bit. That is very late in the piece for engagement.

But at least it is happening - all power to the church in Australia.

thanks again

Greg said...

Regarding the comments from Geoff above, (which have all happenned since I left Australia) I would say its great that these efforts are being made by evangelical church leadership, but I still think it true that your average evangelical Aussie thinks about these issues very little indeed.

I recently read this in a Bill Bryson book which I found pertinent and poignant. (I want recognition as being the first and only person brave enough to quote Bill Bryson on Paul's Blog!)

"Above all, what is perhaps oddest to the outsider is that Aborigines just aren't there. You don't see them performing on television; you don't see them assisting in shops. Only two Aborigines have ever served in Parliament; none has held a cabinet post. Indigenous peoples constitute only about 1.5% of the Australian population and they live disproprtionately in rural areas, so you wouldn't expect to see them in vast numbers anyway, but you would expect to see them sometimes - working in a bank, delivering mail, writing parking tickets, fixing a telephone line, participating in some productive capacity in the normal workday world. I never have; not once. Clearly some connection is not being made.

As I sat now on the Todd St mall with my coffee and watched the mixed crowds - happy white shoppers with Saturday smiles and a spring in their step, shadowy Aborigines with their curious bandages and slow, swaying, knocked about gait - I realised that I didn't have the faintest idea what the solution to all this was, what was required to spread the fruits of general Australian prosperity to those who seemed so signally unable to find their way to it. If I were contacted by the Commonwealth of Australia to advise on Aboriginal issues all I could write would be: 'Do more. Try Harder. Start now.'

So without an original or helpful thought in my head, I just sat for some minutes and watched these poor disconnected people shuffle past. Then I did what most white Australians do. I read my newspaper and drank my coffee and didn't see them any more."

I think the core of the issue lies with rank and file Australians (including us evangelicals). And the problem is that we simply don't think about the problem.