Before I start this conversation I want to say upfront, I am in no way an expert on Aboriginal issues or how we think about them as families. but this is important work and this is what I have learnt so far in my baby steps of a journey.
Who am I?
I am a white woman, whose family has lived in Australia for generations. This is our home and the only land we have ever belonged to. My family never spoke about Aboriginal people, it was years later I discovered that a girl I went to school with was Aboriginal, and much later again the I discovered one of my closest and longest friends was also Aboriginal. We didn’t learn Aboriginal history in school but white history, with Aboriginal people in the background or useful trackers. The earliest memory I have is going to see the film Manganinnie and being devastated by what had happened.
I grew up in a fairly working class family and I was the first person in my family to have attended University. We didn’t think we had a lot growing up, so for a long time I didn’t understand what white privilege was.
In recent years my circle of close friends has grown, particularly including people of colour and more specifically Aboriginal people. I am hearing stories of their lives, the overt racism and assumptions that are made of them and even hardest to come to terms with is when I make those assumptions as well. I have grown to realise how privileged I am. To be born where I was, to the family I have, growing up in the community I did and to have the coloured skin I do, made differences I will never fully understand.
This might sound like a strange way to start this conversation about talking with your family about Aboriginal issues but I have learnt that it is critical in entering into these conversations to start by realising who you are and where you come from. Being part of the dominant culture I often feel like I don’t have a culture, or that there is such variety in white Australian culture, that you can’t generalise. But culture is the beliefs and practices of a community and everyone has at least some.
Time for the Truth.
The next stage has been about learning the truth. What is a more wholistic history of Australia, not just what I was taught at school. If you don’t know where to start Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, is a helpful resource, there is a full adult version and a kids version (Young Dark Emu) for older primary school children. Talk to your kids or grandkids about what they have learnt in school. There is so much more Aboriginal history and culture taught in schools today.
Another idea is to research the community on whose land you live, what is their history? Is there an Aboriginal land council? What information does the local library and council have?
I have also researched the community on whose land I was born and where I work as well. It has helped me to connect even deeper into who I am as an Australian. It would be great to do it with your kids as they explore who they are.
As you explore these stories you will soon discover some terrible parts of our history, some things happening out of blind naïve attempts to help, some were cruel people driven by power, greed and the need to control. You will learn of massacres, genocide, stolen and denied identities, abuse and torture. Of Aboriginal people being herded together in missions, stolen from their families and controlled by police with curfews and violence. Disappointingly some of the stories are not even that old. Generational trauma is a real thing. All of this history plays a significant role in where we are now and without understanding this we will not be able to move forward as a nation.
Interestingly the more you explore you will also learn amazing stories of resilience, faithfulness, hope, courage and generous spirits. I still marvel at the amount of Aboriginal people who went to war for the country that didn’t even recognise them as people at the time.
Not just Aboriginal history but Australian history
These stories are not just Aboriginal history but Australian history, as Christians we need to acknowledge our part. The Uniting Church revisited the Preamble to our Constitution in 2009 which recognises the place of Aboriginal people in Australia and the part the church has played in the colonisation of Aboriginal people. This resource would be a great place to talk through with children in Church or at home about the Church’s relationship with our First People.(See below)
An important part that has begun the journey towards healing has been the National Apology to Indigenous people in Australia, made by Kevin Rudd in 2008. Sorry Sorry is a beautiful children’s book helping children to understand why Sorry Day is important. It is a great start to the conversation.
Get to know Aboriginal people and learn about their culture.
There are so many opportunities now to learn more about Aboriginal culture and the many nations that were present across this land. Workshops, cultural centres, tours (including in the Botanical gardens in Sydney ) and Naidoc celebrations. Watch movies, listen to music, study art and read books written by Aboriginal people. Listening to the voice of Aboriginal people is key.
When Jesus calls us to go and make disciples of all nations, he wasn’t talking about only people like us, or to make people into people like us. It was a call to love, to see every human as one of our brothers or sisters in Christ and to love everyone as God does. Loving, is not just about the good, fun and nice parts but also weeping through the difficult things as well.
As parents and grandparents how do we model this to our kids in how we talk about and engage with Aboriginal people? Is their story our story, even when it does not shine a pleasant light on our past or even in our present?
I have much to learn, but this is important work.
Karen Mitchell-Lambert is ordained in the ministry of Deacon and is the team leader of PULSE.