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“They stood like Statues, without motion, but grinn’d like so many Monkies.”

As a sign of respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the first inhabitants of this continent and its islands, we need to change the date of our national day.

Since the colonisation of this land in 1788, white Australians have consistently and regularly demeaned and dishonoured the original inhabitants of the land, who had cared for the country over millenia. This isn’t “black armband” history, this is simply the reality of the early decades of white colonisation of the continent.

Even before the invasion of the colonisers, this dismissive and eracist attitude was evident. Early in January 1688, a century before the First Fleet arrived, a British ship, the Cygnet, under the command of pirate and buccaneer, Captain Charles Swan, set anchor off the coast of “New Holland”. On board was the sailor, author, and privateer, William Dampier (pictured), whose record of the journey of the Cygnet was published a decade later.

In that account, the English pirate Dampier describes the inhabitants of the land which he called New Holland, and which we know today as Australia. He takes care to describe the colour, appearance, clothing, dwellings, and habits of the people he encountered.

At one point, he makes a comment, in passing, which has had a striking and undesirable influence on the way that white Australians have regarded black Australians. He wrote: they stood like Statues, without motion, but grinn’d like so many Monkies, staring one upon another.

(This quotation is taken from A new voyage round the world: describing particularly, the isthmus of America, several coasts and islands in the West Indies … their soil, rivers, harbours, plants … Vol.I. By Captain William Dampier. Illustrated with particular maps and draughts. This is available online at https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dampier/william/new-voyage-round-the-world/index.html)

That looks, to us today, to be an incredibly racist comment. Most likely Dampier, reflecting the ethos of his time, would not have thought so. Nevertheless, this attitude towards the “primitive” “natives” he encountered, is reflected in subsequent writings by later explorers, and by the British settlers from 1788 onwards. (And it is still found in attitudes in the 21st century; witness the racism evident in the incident relating to Adam Goodes on the AFL field, a few years back.)

I have been reading about Dampier in an excellent new book by historian Nick Brodie, entitled 1787 (subtitled the lost chapters of Australia’s beginnings; see https://www.hardiegrant.com/au/publishing/bookfinder/book/1787-by-nick-brodie/9781743791608)

Brodie makes the point that what Dampier wrote had a strong influence on how James Cook and Joseph Banks described the inhabitants that they encountered decades later; and that their writings, in turn, influenced the approach and attitude of the British who colonised the land from 1788 onwards. They continually looked down on the people who had long inhabited the land before they came. (See https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/18/endeavour-by-every-possible-means-to-conciliate-their-affections/ and https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/20/we-never-saw-one-inch-of-cultivated-land-in-the-whole-country/)

Changing the date of Australia Day would be one small contribution to recognising the damage that has been done by such colonial, imperial attitudes. It would challenge us to move away from racist, paternalistic, demeaning attitudes and policies.

However, as I mentioned before (https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/16/the-profound-effect-of-invasion-and-colonisations/), along with changing the date of our national day, we need to work to change the culture of our country, so that we no longer tolerate racism, and so that the First Peoples of this continent and the surrounding islands can have an honoured and valued place at the centre of contemporary Australian society.

And that is the real challenge.

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“We never saw one inch of cultivated land in the whole country”

As a sign of respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the first inhabitants of this continent and its islands, we need to change the date of our national day.

Early encounters between the inhabitants of the continent we know as Australia, and seafaring explorers sent by imperial European powers, set the scene for what took place when the British colonised the continent.

These early encounters failed to develop a deepened understanding of each group by the other. Journal records show instances of failed encounter, misunderstood communication, and skewed interpretation (on the part of the journaling explorers) of “the Natives”.

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“Endeavour by every possible means … to conciliate their affections”

As a sign of respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the first inhabitants of this continent and its islands, we need to change the date of our national day.

On 26 January 1788, the commander of the First Fleet, Arthur Philip (pictures), placed the British flag into the soil of Sydney Cove. Journals of the time record that the British had already set foot on the land a week or so earlier, at Botany Bay. However, because Philip couldn’t find fresh water there, he sailed further north. In Sydney Cove, he found fresh water in the Tank Stream, and this determined the site of the first British settlement.

At the time, this settlement was an expression of colonial expansion, claiming a new colony as “Britannia ruled the waves”. Today, we can see that it was an act of colonial imperialism, with inherent violence at its heart and aggressive marginalisation of the inhabitants of the land.

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The profound effect of invasion and colonisation

This Sunday, 20 January, Uniting Churches around Australia will be holding services which focus on a Day of Mourning, ahead of a day later in the week (26 January) marked in many calendars as Australia Day.

These churches will be doing this in accord with the decision of the 15th Assembly of the UCA, held last year, “to request members to support a Day of Mourning to occur on the Sunday prior to 26th January each year, and to engage during worship services in activities such as reflection and discussion of the profound effect of invasion and colonisation on First Peoples” (see https://uniting.church/28-day-of-mourning/)

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15th Assembly

“When you suffer, the whole body of Christ suffers”

There’s been a new contribution, from North America, to the long-running and still ongoing discussion of the place of same-gender attracted people within the church. It’s from the the Bishops of the United Methodist Church (USA). (See http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/council-of-bishops-letter-to-the-global-lgbtq-community)

But first, before considering this, let me say something about the Uniting Church in Australia. Specifically, about the proposal made in the middle of last year, when the 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church had on its agenda a proposal to prepare an apology to LGBTIQ people from the church.

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15th Assembly

Affirmations we can make together

Last year, I posted a series of Affirmations relating to sexuality and same-gender attracted people, and their place in the church. These Affirmations were inspired by a summary that one of my colleagues made of various resolutions adopted by the National Assembly of the Uniting Church or its Standing Committee (thanks Avril). [You can read that post at https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/20/seven-affirmations/]

Recently, one of my colleagues commented that these Affirmations would make for a good creed (thanks Neil). I played with them for a bit, and came up with the series of Affirmations below. I think this sequence flows well and the key issues are identified.

I have kept pretty much the wording of the formal resolutions, although they are “tweaked” at some places, to make for a more amenable pattern for saying together in a liturgy. We have moved and developed in our understandings as a church, so the evolving language and ideas reflect that.

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15th Assembly

A Prayer for the Uniting Church in Australia

This Prayer from the President of the Uniting Church has been issued today, along with a Pastoral Letter advising that “the Assembly decision on marriage stands, and will continue to be lived out in our Church, in various faithful expressions”, and noting that the “broader focus [of the Church includes] the ways we can witness to God’s reconciling love, which is beyond measure and has power to transform people’s lives and the life of our society.”

A PRAYER FOR THE UNITING CHURCH IN AUSTRALIA

Written by President Dr Deidre Palmer

six months after the Fifteenth Assembly

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