Becca De Souza reflects on the recent ‘Voice and the Church’ conference held by Scarred Tree Ministries on the lands of Gadigal Clan of the Eora Nation (St John’s Anglican Church, Glebe, Sydney).
Good morning. It’s Brooke Prentis here. Aboriginal Christian Leader and CEO of Common Grace.
I’m here this morning on the lands and waters of the Gweagal peoples. The Gweagal peoples have been and continue to be stewards and custodians on behalf of the Almighty Creator as they have been for thousands of years. I pay my respects to the Elders and Leaders past, present, and future. I recognise that their sovereignty has never been ceded. I acknowledge that I stand on stolen land. I also acknowledge the Bidjigal peoples.
I’m here at Kurnell. At sunrise. On the 29th of April in the year 2020. Today is 250 years to the day since the arrival of Lieutenant James Cook and his encounter with the Gweagal peoples. Today is thousands of years of history, story, family, and connection of the Gweagal peoples that was disrupted 250 years ago. Today we have not achieved Reconciliation and justice for Aboriginal peoples in these lands now called Australia.
I had a spiritual pull to this place today. The last time I came here was when I was joined by 85 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Leaders and 120 of our non-Indigenous friends as part of the Grasstree Gathering 2018. We reclaimed this place in prayer. Today I do the same.
I stand here today as an Aboriginal woman who now lives on the lands of the Gadigal peoples, in the place now called Sydney. I stand here as a Christian. I acknowledge that in the name of Christianity and in the name of Jesus Aboriginal people have died, been abused, and suffered injustice and inequality. I reclaim Jesus in this place as a Jesus that calls us to love our neighbour as ourself. Australia has a long way to go to love their Aboriginal neighbour.
I have called Australia to undertake truth telling on a national scale. We cannot have a shared present or future if we have not dealt with the true history of these lands now called Australia. A truth-telling commission, Internationally recognised Treaty and treaties, and a voice to and / or in Parliament should be our next steps as the nation of Australia.
I echo the calls of the Statement from the Heart.
And so here in this place, I lay the Aboriginal map of Australia. I carry the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples past, present, and future, to this place. I carry our knowledge of the Creator who gave us the law of how to care for creation and how to live in right relationship. I acknowledge the relationship since time immemorial.
I acknowledge the acts of colonisation – invasion, stealing, shooting, killing, murdering, massacring, settlement, and disease that started 250 years ago and that affect our present today.
We recount from Cook’s journal – 29 April 1770:
“Sunday 29th In the PM winds southerly and clear weather with which we stood into the bay and Anchor'd under the South shore about 2 Mile within the entrence in 6 fathoms water, the south point bearing SE and the north point ^East, Saw as we came in on both points of the bay Several of the natives and afew hutts, Men women and children on the south shore abreast of the Ship to which place I went in the boats in hopes of speaking with them accompaned by Mr Banks Dr Solander and Tupia- as we approached the shore they all made off except two Men who seem'd resolved to oppose our landing - as soon as I saw this I orderd the boats to lay upon their oars in order to speake to them but this was to little purpose for neither us nor Tupia could understand one word they said. we then threw them some nails beeds &Ca a shore which they took up and seem'd not ill pleased with in so much that I thout that they beckon'd to us to come a shore but in this we were mistaken for as soon as we put the boat in they again came to oppose us upon which I fired a musket between the two which had no other effect than to make them retire back where bundles of thier darts lay and one of them took up a stone and threw at us which caused my fireing a second Musquet load with small shott and altho' some of the shott struck the man yet it had no other effect than to make him lay hold of a ^Shield or target ^to defend himself emmediatly after this we landed which we had no sooner done than they throw'd two darts at us this obliged me to fire a third shott soon after which they both made off, but not in such haste but what we might have taken one.”
From Joseph Banks, 29 April 1770:
"They called to us very loud in a harsh sounding Language of which neither us or Tupia understood a word, shaking their lances and menacing. In all appearance resolvd to dispute our landing to the utmost tho they were but two and we 30 or 40 at least. In this manner we parleyd with them for about a quarter of an hour, they waving to us to be gone, we again signing that we wanted water and we meant them no harm. They remaind resolute so a musquet was fird over them..."
From Sydney Parkinson 1770:
‘Their countenance bespoke displeasure; they threatened us, and discovered hostile intentions, often crying to us, Warra warra wai,’ Warra warra wai means 'go away' or 'begone'.
From Dr Shayne T. Williams:
"Everything that has happened to the Aboriginal people has its roots in this area...it impacted on all Aboriginal people across Australia."
"If..you look at this...encounter from our perspective you would understand that two Gweagal men were assiduously carrying out their spiritual duty to Country by protecting Country from the presence of persons not authorised to be there. In our cultures it is not permissible to enter another culture’s Country without due consent. Consent was always negotiated. Negotiation was not necessarily a matter of immediate dialogue, it often involved spiritual communication through ceremony."
From an Aboriginal Elder on a plaque here at Kurnell:
"One thing Aboriginal people can never forget is the landing of Lt Cook and his men at this place in 1770. The Story of this landing has been told through generations and it marks the beginning of dispossession for Aboriginal people." Aboriginal Elder, plaque at Kurnell.
Habbakuk 2:12 (NIV)
“Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed
and establishes a town by injustice!”
Psalm 137:1-4 NRSV
“By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?”
Whilst referred to as men, women and children, the response on first seeing Aboriginal people was to shoot us. Genesis 1:26-27 explains for us that all human beings are equally created in the image and likeness of God. But 250 years ago we were not afforded this equality.
Today we pray for recognition with dignity and Reconciliation with repentance.
The University of New South Wales corrected the widely misunderstood history, by asserting: Australia was not settled peacefully, it was invaded, occupied and colonised. Describing the arrival of the Europeans as a “settlement” attempts to view Australian history from the shores of England rather than the shores of Australia.
Today we pray for the true history to be told and lived from the shores of Australia.
I am wearing my desert pea a symbol suggested by the Making Peas/ce movement. The Desert pea is a symbol, a blood flower, being a symbol of memorial for First Nations peoples who died through invasion and the effects of colonisation in these lands now called Australia.
On top of this map I lay the University of Newcastle’s map of the massacres.
I lament. I mourn. I cry out from pain. I cry out for justice. I weep. I am reminded of the words of Helen Wright and Aunty Lynette Wanganeen in the song, “Sister, why do you weep?”
I, Weep for my people
I, Weep for my land
I, Weep for my song
I, Weep for my country
I, Weep for my children
On top of these lands I pour the actual land - ashes, sand, and earth from every State and Territory carried to this place by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and mixed together at the Grasstree Gathering 2018.
To these lands we lay a wreath of desert peas. This is a symbol to acknowledge the blood spilt in the lands and waters. The blood cries out from the ground. The flower brings new life, healing, and hope.
Today we pray for Reconciliation as friendship, with truth, justice, and action.
This place of encounter has a spiritual bind on Australia - a spiritual bind that needs spiritual healing. Many have said that Spiritual Revival will happen in Australia through Aboriginal peoples. I believe this is true but I say that this spiritual revival will happen, not in the centre of Australia, but right here in Sydney, the place that has a 250 year old spiritual bind on all peoples in these lands now called Australia.
Today we pray for the spiritual bind to be broken and the spiritual healing to burst forth letting justice roll on like a river and fairness like a never failing stream.
Bible Verse - 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV) “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Aunty Jean Phillips asked me to share this prayer.
The scriptures speak to us from Isaiah 52:7;
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God Reigns”.
Our Creator God, you have reminded us through the words of Isaiah, That you are the God of all creation
And in that you show forth you love, your peace and your goodness in abundance.
Right now though, our Creator God, we as a collective nation are crying, hurting, grieving and struggling with fear
and anxiety from the Coronavirus and are desperately in need of the healing and the loving touch that can only come from your hand.
As the First Peoples we recognised and lived in your abundant love and grace for millennia
And our relationship with you was imbedded in the love and respect that we shared.
Therefore, we as First People of this Country, to whom you gave this Country too before time immemorial,
now cry out to you on behalf of this Nation, to once again shine the light of your love, healing, blessing, care and peace
upon us all, as we face the challenge of the Coronavirus.
Our Creator God, you are the Great Physician, you are the Great Healer, you are the Great Comforter, cover this nation with your goodness, and bring about complete restoration, so that with our united voices and hearts we might once again declare, “Our God Reigns”.
Pope John Paul the second on his visit to Australia in 1986 said this:
“Dear Aboriginal people: the hour has come for you to take on new courage and new hope. You are called to remember the past, to be faithful to your worthy traditions, and to adapt your living culture whenever this is required by your own needs and those of your fellowman. Above all you are called to open your hearts ever more to the consoling, purifying and uplifting message of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died so that we might all have life, and have it to the full.”
Nelson Mandela on his visit to Australia in 2000 said this:
“I see an Australia wanting to heal itself and deal with the hurt of the past’. ‘Leaving wounds unattended leads to them festering, and eventually causes greater injury to the body of society’.
Great Creator Spirit. We Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and non-Indigenous peoples now of many cultures, humble ourselves in prayer and seek your face. We feel the combined pain. Now is the time for your healing. Lord we need it so. Amen.
 University of New South Wales, Diversity Toolkit, General Information Folios, Part 3: Appropriate Terminology, Indigenous Australian People. Online at: https://teaching.unsw.edu.au/ indigenous-terminology [accessed on 3 February 2017].
Take it Further:
Brooke Prentis is a Wakka Wakka Woman, an Aboriginal Christian leader and the CEO of Common Grace.