The following is a detailed account of the origins of the Recognition Story It is written by Reverend Lindsay McDowell of Canberra.
Who can pinpoint when some things begin? Who can say how early the first seeds were planted?
We might ask that question of the Recognition Story. When did it first begin to germinate?
Was it really on Monday 30 June 1997 at 9.00am, as described in the INTRODUCTION?
Or was it when I felt compelled to become a member of a Koori Commission in the early nineteen nineties.
Or maybe even earlier…perhaps around 1980 when, as a freshly ordained minister I felt compelled to look into the deep questions of what had happened for the First Peoples of these lands following European colonisation?
Or was it as a young farmer of about 20 years of age, when I first began to sense that something was horribly wrong?
I cannot help feeling that perhaps it was none of those times, although all of them were milestones on the journey to the final destination.
Reflecting back through the mosaic of memories, I wonder whether the origins began to take root when I was somewhere around two years old, and maybe even younger.
Such a cloudy, distant memory…but I remember what seemed to be a very large hand reaching down to take hold of my very small one.
That hand led me into the big wide world. To the chook house…the dog kennels…the pig pen…the sheep yards…the shearing shed. Much later that same hand led me to the cattle yards. And then to the horse breaking yards.
That hand belonged to a man of the First Peoples… a man known as Mungindi George. I realise now he was an Aboriginal stockman in the country where I was raised. At times he was given charge of me. He took care of me, taught me things. He looked after me. He led me into the wider world.
Gazing into the distant past and looking through the eyes of a small child…I can see him still.
Given what has since happened, described above and set out below, I have to wonder whether God was planting His purposes way back then… and none of us knew!!!
In the early part of 1997 much attention was being given to the forthcoming 2000 Olympic Games to be held in Sydney.
All manner of preparations were underway. Somewhere in that period, a national newspaper carried an article on developments.
The writer drew attention to a proposed plan by some First Peoples.
He claimed their plan was to hold a major protest rally in the heart of Sydney while the Olympic Games were being held.
The objective was to bring the plight of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and conditions they faced in their own lands, to the attention of the people of the world while they were visiting our shores.
This news touched me to the core of my being.
My gut response was, “How sad…how unspeakably sad! And how entirely unjust. What a horror that an original people, in any country, anywhere, should ever have to feel the need to appeal to the world community in such a manner so that visitors to that country might learn of the conditions the original inhabitants were living in while dwelling in their own land… while living in their own home.”
It was a scenario that was completely unacceptable to me.
But I did nothing.
What could I do?
I had nothing.
I had nothing that could address this, let alone resolve it. I felt disempowered.
Some weeks later I went to my prayers on Monday 30 June 1997. You may have read a snippet of this in the Introduction.
When approaching my favourite quiet spot by a lounge room window that morning, these things were not on my mind. In fact, nothing in particular was. Just as the Introduction tells it, different matters for prayer came and went.
I can recall being in prayer for people and their everyday needs…like Johnnie’s earache and grandma’s bunion.
And then, out of nowhere this proposed rally by the First Peoples swept into my mind.
I remember becoming rather gripped by it.
This sense deepened and I became increasingly focused on bringing this human trauma before God. I found myself being drawn deeper and deeper into prayer as I felt the anguish of so many people, both first and later Australians, who had struggled over this issue, even to their deaths, for more than two centuries.
I can recall my cry for all our people over this relationship issue rising up from deep within the core of my being, way down inside my belly.
Somehow, words in the following form tumbled out in a wrenching cry…
“Lord God, look at us! We have all landed in this mess. But you are God! You are King of Kings and Lord of Lords. You are clothed in majesty and for that very reason, because you are who you are, this anguish we have just does not make sense. Because you are who you are, sheer logic says you must have something in your storehouse that is much better for us than what we have.”
That is when it happened.
The presence of the Lord became so tangible and powerful, with a directive that presented so clearly, a command to go and get a Tall Ship, and sail again into Botany Bay, and this time get it right. “Get it right” meant to address, and deal with, the events of the first time around that were the first causes of us being a divided people from the very first day of our life together.
At that moment, A National Act of Recognition was born.
That morning as I had walked to my quiet spot for a time of prayer I was completely powerless to deal with this relationship issue. I had no means at my disposal whatsoever that might equip me or anyone else to address it.
I left my room that morning a different man.
I knew exactly what means I had at my disposal to contribute toward us all becoming empowered to address the issues.
Many arguments and negatives can be put forward by opponents of this opportunity that can cast doubt on the validity of this vision, and believe me, they indeed have been put…BIG TIME!!!
However, what cannot be denied by anyone is the fact that up until Monday 30 June 1997, the concept of Recognition as a means of bringing justice and healing had never been thought of. All any of us had to work within approaching this issue was the concept of Reconciliation, a completely different concept altogether.
On the day that the Recognition concept was born fresh alternatives, and positive opportunities opened up for all of us.
There have since been many twists and turns in the road as A National Act of Recognition has developed, but the outline I bring to you here is an account of the ORIGINS of the Recognition Story.