Dear Sisters and Brothers…greetings.
This follows Recognition News sent 9 August 2016.
On 11 October I emailed a message promising to report on our Recognition Team visit to Cape York and Torres Strait in September, our second visit to the region. An injury, coupled with regional and national coordination since then has limited my time at a desk. I did suggest you watch this space, that we would be back. And so here we are with the report – and apologies for the delay.
We are thrilled to report that all the hopes and dreams we had prior to departure have been fulfilled, that the concept of A National Act of Recognition of the First Peoples of Australia has become well received throughout the region, and that a depth of confidence and trust between people has begun in an ever widening circle across the entire continent.
But this work is never as straightforward as a brief report may lead you to believe. While it could be argued that some things should not be disclosed (and the very sensitive are not), you are the ones who make all the above possible, and we feel you have a right to know what really happens.
We knew ahead of time this trip would cost around $13,900. And we asked you to fund it. Around the time the decision to go was made we had about $4,000 in the Recognition Fund. That on its own felt reckless – even foolhardy.
But that was mild compared to other problems. Some six weeks before departure communication with some key people shut down. Completely! We had no idea why. We did not know if we had done something wrong that had caused offence. We had to try and make arrangements by other means.
This meant we were asking you to continue funding a mission that may be failing even before it began. For six weeks I woke around 3.00am in deep distress. On the day I walked to the plane to go I had to WILL myself to board. The thought that I may have been misleading you all was a terrifying, sickening feeling. We departed with almost no money, and worse, the skimpiest of arrangements and next to no communication. I had to discipline myself to take my eyes off looking at the storm, and look only at the Lord Jesus. There was no alternative but to make a decision to believe God, and fly into the unknown.
North Queensland… Our team of three, Rodney Rivers, a Kimberley man now living in Perth, David Way of Byron Bay and I assembled in Cairns from Wednesday 7 September on. The next day brought the first signs that God was leading us. Thanks to Carl Musch of Mareeba, about an hour west of Cairns, Rodney and I met with delegates to an IMLA Conference (Indigenous Ministry Links Australia). First Peoples from as far away as West Australia, Oenpelli in Northern Territory and even from PNG had assembled.
We were invited to tell our Recognition Story. Delegates to the conference quickly grasped the principles behind our proposed action at the site of first encounter – Botany Bay, believing this to be of God, and an authentic step aimed at enabling the Australian public to address the source of our national problem. They were equally quick to endorse the coming Historic Assembly at that site.
We are confident they will carry our message to places we ourselves will never reach face to face.
Then followed a series of meetings in Cairns, including with Torres Strait Elder Pastor Jack Billy of Poruma (Coconut) Island, Pastor Titom Tamwoy of Bamaga, Cape York, and more. Lots of networking was made possible because we were graciously permitted to attend a national conference in Cairns.
On Sunday 11 our Recognition National Leadership Team met in Cairns. Robyn Beezley, Rodney Rivers, Tom Hallas and I spent the afternoon together. It was our loss that we did not have Ossie Cruse with us. However, we were blessed by David Way joining us.
All these occasions were special, all were moments of strengthening bonds between people. This is very productive because it brings people of great cultural diversity to a point where we begin looking out for each other’s interests and wellbeing.
Cape York and Torres Strait… On Monday 12 our team of three was to begin a 1000km journey visiting communities from Cairns to Bamaga. However, due to vehicle break downs this leg had to be cancelled. We had struck trouble BIG time. One vehicle broke down before the trip began. The second one was damaged on the road as it came to pick us up. A third vehicle coming through from Sydney, on learning of our situation began to hurry and with 1500 kilometres to go an engine warning light came on. Driver had to wait two days for a part to arrive. Three out of three! We were stranded.
Thus we arrived at Horn Island in the south of Torres Strait by air on Saturday 19. Catching the ferry to Thursday Island we began community consultations that same day. The aim was to follow up our May visit to more fully explain A National Act of Recognition at Botany Bay. We were in meetings within two hours of arrival.
Over the next few days, while still on Thursday Island, we met variously with senior people of the Anglican Diocese of North Queensland, including Bishop Saibo Mabo, nephew of Eddie Mabo, senior officials of the Torres Strait Regional Authority, and a manager with the Dept. of Torres Strait Islander Partnerships. Finally, we met with Elders and members of the Kaurareg people who traditionally belong to country in the Possession Island area. They were most helpful in opening the way for us to visit leaders on island communities. We met with many more (from as far distant as Fraser Island off Hervey Bay) at worship on Sunday.
On Wednesday 21 Rodney, David and I flew east to Mer (Murray) Island. This is Eddie Mabo country, where he now rests in the earth he farmed as a youngster, and won back as a man. You may be aware he did not see his victory – he passed away in January 1992 and won his claim in the Mabo High Court Case the following June.
Very tentative consultation began that day, but next day an impressive group of Elders and community members gathered around a table set up by the young people beside the glistening waters of Torres Strait – see photo below of ‘The most wonderful board room in the world’. It was a very important moment of this trip.
On Friday 23 we flew to Badu Island in the west, on the way touching down at Darnley Island toward the north, and flying over Poruma Island in the Central Region. On Badu we met with a small group comprising an Elder, Council Chairperson, and two officials.
Returning to Thursday Island on Saturday we attended worship at another church on Sunday. This time we were graciously invited to speak, outlining the Recognition Story to a significant number who had come from as far as Bamaga.
After 20 days on the trot, Tuesday 27 September saw Rodney, David and me going our different ways as we returned home. Rodney had come from right across Australia to visit Torres Strait.
We learnt so much from locals. We found that throughout the whole of Torres Strait many people have intimate oral knowledge of the visit to their country by Lieutenant James Cook on HM Bark Endeavour in August 1770. However, those we spoke to right across the region were startled to learn that each day had been recorded in the Endeavour logbook, and the written record had been sitting there for 246 years without their knowledge. It was a stunning revelation for them.
Wherever we went we were embraced with warmth and hospitality. One person captured and summed up the sentiment of all to whom we spoke when he said, “Koiki (Eddie) Mabo took us all to the step that is now so well known. Since then we have been wondering amongst ourselves what the next step may be. Your visit to show us these earliest of records, and explain the response you want to make to them, answers all our questions. We are certain that Recognition at Botany Bay is the next step!”
The concept of Recognition at Botany Bay is now firmly established for many in Torres Strait, and with those we have met with there is strong support. Our teams will now seek to deepen relationships with our brothers and sisters in that region, and every region across the continent, doubling our efforts to bring A National Act of Recognition of the First Peoples of Australia to fruition.
And the highlight of this visit? In a context where there was great distress prior to going, to then watch enthralled as God led us to these outcomes, to witness faces, at first drawn and tense become relaxed, shining with hope, eyes radiant with joy, and wave after wave of love breaking out between people – this was the greatest reward.
We will do our best to keep you informed on our quest for justice and healing of our land and people.
Grace and peace,
Reverend Lindsay McDowell
Recognition Leadership: Pastor Ossie Cruse Mr Tom Hallas Pastor Robyn Beezley Mr Rodney Rivers
National Coordinator: Southern Cross Ministries Australia Incorporated 10 Mirning Crescent ARANDA ACT 2614
The most wonderful board room in the world! Lindsay McDowell and Kimberley man Rodney Rivers with Elders on Mer (Murray) Island. The sparkling waters of Torres Strait are stretching away to the West (Photo – Courtesy David Way)