Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Greetings to you.
The following is about Recognition visits to Aboriginal communities in West Australia and New South Wales in the latter part of 2013. It highlights some of the personal side of this deeply human journey.
Noongar country … On 25 September I arrived in Perth for three days of meetings with groups and individuals, mainly Noongar people but others as well. Noongar people belong to country in a massive area out from Perth, which swings south and continues all the way to the Southern Ocean.
All meetings were small but there were several of them. Most people had attended Recognition meetings before so it was largely about two aims (1) Making sure I returned to people personally – to sit down and relate to each other in face to face conversation and (2) Provide everyone with an up to date report on progress all over Australia. This meant big use of the Map of Community Visits (below).
The Kimberley … Kimberley man Rodney Rivers and I arrived in Broome for a zig zag journey of about 2500 kilometers through country that at its far north is bordered by the Timor Sea. On arrival in Broome, within an hour we were in a meeting with some two hundred Aboriginal and African people celebrating an annual Gospel Festival. They surrounded us in loving embrace. Sheer joy!!!
Then some 1100 kilometers of hurried road trip to Kununurra. We found ourselves in a joint meeting with the Recognize Team who had arrived the same day to speak on Constitutional Recognition. The people that gathered gave Rodney and me an opportunity to explain A National Act of Recognition at Botany Bay. All completely unexpected, all very generous of everyone involved. Most of the hearers readily understood the two organizations were working on different aspects of the same problem, that alone none of us have it all! There was a real sense of making history together!
An interview on Kimberley radio, then back on the road for about 1400 kilometres, heading back to Broome but zig zagging in and out of remote and not so remote communities, spending time with authentic elders, people whose steady eyes reflected quiet wisdom and sheer human decency. A matchless experience of working together on the destiny of our country and all our people.
I mentioned the human journey. Back in Broome, I think particularly of three women…real elders from the Pilbara. They were in Broome for other reasons. Someone felt they, Rodney and I should meet. As they heard the Recognition Story unfold eyes became red, and here and there a tear made a quiet escape. Then it happened. For one of them, more than 200 years of the loss and grief of an entire people tumbled down her face like springs of water cascading over falls.
For a time there was nothing for it but hold on to her until uncontrollable grief subsided into silence.
And one is never the same again. Seared into memory for all time!
Noogar country to the Southern Ocean … Back in Perth, more first time briefings and/or progress updates, people showering me with help, ringing around, opening the way for all sorts of possibilities, another vehicle supplied…then road south to Albany, and several places in between.
This is a vast slice of Australia where our Team has not taken the Recognition Story before (this is a very big country!). With everything arranged by others, a series of first time meetings was held in Bunbury, Manjimup and Albany. Again the meetings were small, but as is usually the case, word of our Story spreads far and wide as communities talk with each other. It is so common now to meet a stranger who says, “I have heard of you”.
As with the Northern leg of this trip, so with the Southern. Everything became possible through the amazing hospitality, goodwill and dedication of so many people God placed in my path. I want to name everyone but hesitate, knowing I will leave someone out. You all know who you are.
And the human journey? At Albany I sat down with a man who had travelled a long distance to meet with me. I listened to the story of how this Aboriginal man had found a way to cope with another world, and establish his own economic stability…in the boxing tent!
The circuit, the drums, the bells, the blood, the smells, the noise…the crowd! In these travels I have now met a few men who survived in this way. In the words of one, it was his job, “…to fight all day!”
Seated with this Albany man, just a short distance from where the Southern Ocean sparkles, I heard how this talent in him was discovered pretty much by accident, and how he went from that moment in pursuit of title after title. And then this hard, rough and tumble man looked into my eyes and, with tears filling his own, declared, “This day with you, hearing your Recognition Story, I want you to know this day is one of the best days of my life in a very long time!”
Back to Perth, final meetings, another radio interview, goodbyes, another flight…and home!
My wife Anne was the bright spot on returning home. And she had held everything together while I was away. But some bits were not so good. The ministry computer set up had completely died, one of the ministry cars had died, and the home hot water system was (and is) in its death throes!
No time to stop and lament…or even pause! Another vehicle, another state, another road!
New South Wales
Wiradjuri country … On 31 October elder and pastor, Ossie Cruse of Eden, NSW and I visited Central West NSW to build on relationships established earlier with people in and around Dubbo.
Some of you will know Wiradjuri country runs from the Murray River on the Victorian border to well north of Dubbo. A particularly large tribal land. The Wiradjuri Council of Elders had invited us to attend their regular meeting – this one was held at Parkes – to explain to their Council the aims and objectives of A National Act of Recognition at Botany Bay.
Ossie and I were given a grand hearing by this body of elders. Not only so, we were invited to join with them in their meeting well before our session, and after our presentation had opportunity to stay for lunch and fellowship. I think the sum total of this allowed us to tell our Story fairly well and, in addition to that, old friendships were refreshed and new ones formed.
We had further opportunity to meet key leaders in nearby towns of Condobolin and Forbes and, while these meetings were small, I sense big outcomes will grow from them. We really did establish deep relationship because we showed we are facing the underlying causes of our problems as opposed to fiddling at the margins, forever trying to resolve issues by treating the symptoms.
Ngunnawal country … Just prior to this visit to the Central West, Ossie and I met with an official of the Ngnambri Local Aboriginal Land Council in Queanbeyan. He was very gracious to us, giving us lots of time to explain ourselves. I believe we established a good rapport all around, and am hopeful this will eventually lead to the building of important local friendships.
And now the work begins. One of the worst things we can do is build all these relationships and inspire all these hopes and dreams…and then never follow them up. A lot of phone calls have to happen!
I will try to finish. This is far too long…despite the fact I have hardly scratched the surface!
I invite you to take a moment to reflect on the Map of Community Visits below, because this visual tells its own story. Something of the magnitude shown on the map could only happen through the efforts of a lot of people. For example, who were the magnificent people that went to endless trouble to rectify computer issues, at great cost to themselves? Who provided the vehicles and accommodation? Who upheld our every step in prayer? Who gave financial gifts so the substantial costs could be met? Who gave up their time to make things happen?
I look at all that you have done and my contribution pales by comparison. I have said I want to name everyone but hesitate to do so, knowing I will leave someone out. Nevertheless, I will try to write again and perhaps I will get brave enough to mention names, with thanksgiving.
In fact, I think I will get brave enough to try that now. Just once! Graham!
Graham Keen is typical of you all.
Graham, when we all set out I knew your prayers were behind us. Then sometime later Rodney Rivers and I were in various remote places in the Kimberley, and I just did not know where the next sandwich was coming from.
At some point (details unknown until later – what with constant travel and broken computers) you took an action, placing it beside your prayers. You put a big donation in the Recognition Fund.
And so there you were, right out there with Rodney and me…turning stones into bread!
Yes, you are all like Graham. And what you have accomplished may remain unknown until heaven.
And the former boxer, the man in Albany, by the Southern Ocean? What about him? After I returned to Canberra this man did something that hardly ever happens…he rang me. He rang to repeat his declaration, “I want you to know that day was one of the best days of my life in a very long time!”
What can I say? How can I say anything?
These bonds of love between people are growing, and drawing us closer to each other. In part this is because what we are doing is a grass roots people’s movement. We are building from the bottom up rather than imposing from the top down. We have intentionally focused on going to the downtrodden, we have committed ourselves to giving authority back to the oppressed, and we have been giving a voice to those who for so long have had very little voice on anything (again I refer you to the map).
But something deeper than that is going on. What we see unfolding is that the love that is in the Father’s heart for us all is rising like a wave across the nation. I have been treated to seeing a healthy dose of it washing this land from Sydney to Perth, from Melbourne to Darwin, from Gippsland to the Kimberley, from Noongar country in West Australia to Daintree country in North Queensland.
We will keep you informed on our labours towards bringing justice and healing to our land.
Grace and peace,
Reverend Lindsay McDowell
Chair Southern Cross Ministries Australia
Chair A National Act of Recognition
Recognition Leadership: Pastor Ossie Cruse Mr Tom Hallas Reverend Lindsay McDowell
T:02 6253 0300 F: 02 6253 0311 E: firstname.lastname@example.org W: www.actofrecognition.org.au