Brooke Prentis kicks off our National Reconciliation Week campaign by shedding light on the importance of truth telling for reconciliation. #NRW19 #GroundedinTruth
Reconciliation as Truth and Action
Florence Hydon is co-chair of the Bass Coast South Gippsland Reconciliation Group. She shares with us the Group's journey of learning the hidden truths of massacres and land theft in their region, and advocating for truth telling and justice.
Since 2016 the Bass Coast South Gippsland Reconciliation Group has been working to have the name of our federal electoral division changed. It was named after Angus McMillan, a very early pioneer to Gippsland. Long after his death he was still remembered, and in 1948 the electorate was given his name.
But there was a secret hidden history that was anything but honourable. He was implicated in the brutal murder of hundreds of Aboriginal men women and children as he and his self styled Highland brigade ‘cleared’ the land for white settlement.
Massacre sites across Gippsland hold dreadful memories for the Kurnai-Gunnai peoples who still live in this beautiful country.
The dark truth of death and destruction was deliberately hidden from the colonists as they settled the land with sheep and cattle, and cleared the giant ancient forests for farms and towns.
But of course the history of the country and the first people was kept as secret sacred knowledge down through the years as the few remaining families struggled to survive.
In the 1970’s Peter Gardner, a local historian from Bairnsdale, began to research the stories he heard. Was there any truth to the oral history in the written white fella sources? Indeed there is: in letters, diaries, newspaper articles, and shire documents, the stories are spoken of clearly or hinted at, just in case the law might be listening. In the 1840’s this was unlikely because there were no roads into Gippsland. You came slowly overland across the mountains of the Alps or by sea. So this was a hidden world, a law unto itself, or himself in the person of McMillan and his brigade.
Peter’s research and later the books he wrote document the dates of what happened to the Aboriginal people and are painful to read. Slowly the wider community of Gippsland became aware of this dishonourable man and his actions. But it was another 20 years before there was any movement to have his name eliminated from the electorate. In an electoral boundary redistribution more than 10 years ago, support for a change was not strong enough.
In 2016 the reconciliation group began to work towards having the truth of McMillan’s deeds brought into the open again and we started to learn the terrible stories. We went on a pilgrimage to visit sites in Gippsland and experience the dark sadness of empty orphan country: of the peoples given no burial ceremonies and their spirits no rites to set them free.
In 2017 at the NAIDOC week celebrations in Inverloch, we had an art exhibition and invited Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander artists to show their years’ work. Safina Stewart presented a large painting depicting the sunset across a wide land (see painting below). McMillan rides across the darkening country. Rising out of the land itself are the skulls of the people he killed. It is a beautiful painting, so the dreadful reality of the skulls is shocking. It took courage to paint such an image, and confront the continued blindness of the wider community.
This painting helped the group’s resolution to keep on working for the name change. We committed to a partnership with The Gippsland Land and Water Aboriginal Corp. to put the case for the name to be ‘rested’.
In 2018 we were successful; the name of the electoral division was changed to Monash, a worthy white man. But we were unsuccessful in having the name changed to an Aboriginal one.
As we struggled to understand something of this painful history we have deepened our commitment to truth and the seeking after justice as we deepen our friendship with the Indigenous people who live in our community of Gippsland.
Artist: Safina Stewart
Country: Mabuiag Island, Torres Strait and Wuthathi Country, QLD
Materials: Acrylic on canvas
This graphic painting was created in response to the artist personally processing what it means to be living in an electorate named in honour of Angus McMillan, a man known for his atrocities against Aboriginal people.
The striking colours of the Aboriginal Flag have been altered to be a moon lit massacre site. The skulls of murdered Aboriginal populations lay submerged in a river blood. The full moon rises in the starry night sky as witness, while McMillan rides on horseback over the “settled” lands.
This painting is in remembrance of those Aboriginal men, women and children who died at the hand of McMillan’s hunting raids and in acknowledgement of the impacts of such atrocities.
Brooke Prentis is a Wakka Wakka woman and an Aboriginal Christian Leader. Brooke is a speaker, writer, community pastor, and advocate, and is the Aboriginal Spokesperson for Common Grace and Coordinator of the Grasstree Gathering.
today we lament and grieve the "blood on the wattle". We lament in mourning the massacres and murder. We cry with the land and peoples. We ask that more monuments will come into existence through the work of local councils taking an active role in Reconciliation and truth telling.
Dear Lord, help Australia to face the true history of genocide, help us to seek your face, and pray for healing for the land and peoples. Lord, you are our comfort, hope, and healing.
Truth in Action
Truth starts with knowledge. What would Australia look like, sound like, act like if every person living in these lands and waters understood what “Australia” looked like before colonisation and if we had a shared understanding of the true history of 1788? What would the Australian church look like, sound like, act like, if every Christian knew about God’s appointed custodians and God’s appointed boundaries and viewed colonisation through the Creator’s eyes - the shooting and disregard of peoples made in His image, the destruction of the environment, the commencement of deforestation in Australia.
Will you take action to see how we could change the view of Australia and Australian Christians?
Pray over the Aboriginal massacre map.
Watch the Spencer Gulf Nightly News video clip of Aboriginal Christian dance troupe Dusty Feet Mob at the unveiling of the Waterloo Bay Massacre monument (see clip below).
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This post is part of our National Reconciliation Week 2019 series where we are together discovering Reconciliation as Truth and Action.