On the second day of Reconciliation week, Adam Gowan shares of the importance of Country to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the impacts of terra nullius and stolen land, and Dr Peter Adam leads us in a prayer of lament and justice.

Reconciliation as Truth and Action

Stolen Land

Adam Gowen shares of the importance of Country to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the consequences of terra nullius and stolen land. Adam is a Wiradjuri man and Christian Leader. He is currently living on Yuin Country, in Ulladulla NSW with his wife Lisa, and his three young children.

Recently I was helping my son, who is in year three, prepare a speech for his homework. His topic was ‘Kid Power’ and we happened to come across a quote that went along the lines of ‘if kids hear about a problem, they want to be part of a solution’. I think this is actually true of all people but as we grow in years, and perhaps failed attempts, we rationalise away the effectiveness of any contribution we may make. I start with this to ask you to sit with the problem I am about to propose. To sit with it and to gain a desire to see a solution. To reawaken the inner kid who is not overwhelmed by the overwhelming. While it is a notoriously difficult problem, I believe that drawing people back to a desire for a solution is the best place to start.

Aboriginal Statistical Disadvantage.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face a reality where, due to the fact of our Indigeneity, the statistical expectation is that we will perform poorly in a diverse range of areas. We have all heard statistics about life-expectancy, incarceration rates, health, infant mortality, educational attainment, deaths in custody. I remind us of this not to be downcast but to point to one area within this nexus of disadvantage where I believe all these issues stem from.


Land is central to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s identity. It’s part of us and we are part of it. I think of this as a relationship of connectedness; a spirituality of relatedness. And Country involves more than just land. It’s the sky, and the animals, the plants, and the minerals, the waters and the winds. Western science is still uncovering truths that have been known to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about our Country that we have known for generations. We know these things about our Country because this knowledge is not just novel scientific fact, it’s cultural reality and an important component of knowing ourselves as communities and as individuals.

Stolen Land.

Terra Nullius, a Latin phrase, must mean it’s something beyond the grasp of the ordinary individual. Is it something those professor-types argue about? Put simply it’s an idea that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were not human. It’s the reasoning that the British used as evidence that when the Union Jack was hoisted above Sydney cove in 1788 that no-one else was there, and this land was theirs for the taking. At the very same time recent estimates put the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people somewhere in the 750,000 –1,000,000 (yes, one million) range. A number Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still to return to some 231 years on. Settler colonists were oblivious to the advanced agricultural and economic practices that existed in the lore and customs of Aboriginal people. They did not see the fences, fields, and flocks of European agriculture and ignorantly dismissed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture as crude and unsophisticated, when nothing could be further from the truth. Settler colonial relationship with land (and much else besides) has to do with ownership and skews towards exploitation. As land was claimed by the settlers dispossession from the holistic cultural approach to land, culture, family, language, and lore (among other things) was perpetrated against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

While this is a heavy story, the story has not ended. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still here and still have vibrant understandings of land and culture. This Reconciliation Week I ask you to sit with the complexity of the problem of stolen land and the immense impact this theft has had on all areas of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Not to despair, but to cultivate a desire to be a part of a solution.


by Dr Peter Adam

Dr Peter Adam is an Anglican minister who serves at St Jude's Carlton in Melbourne. He writes Bible commentaries and books on theology, and also writes and speaks on indigenous issues, to inform and engage Australian Christians in these vital topics.


Dear heavenly Father,

We thank and praise you for your creation of this land in which we live, for rivers, creeks, mountains, hills and plains, for beauty and grandeur, and for your daily gifts of sun and rain, food and drink, for trees, plants, animals and birds. We thank you for those who have cared for this land for generations.

We thank and praise you for human companionship and community, for family life, for your gifts of skills in daily work, creativity, music, workmanship, dance, justice, mercy, and joy.

We confess that we often love these your gifts more than we love you, the giver of every good and perfect gift.

We lament the theft of land by Europeans since 1788, theft perpetrated by both governments and individuals. We lament such massive disobedience to your clear commands, ‘You shall not covet, you shall not steal, you shall not murder’. We lament stolen lands, stolen lives, stolen livelihoods, stolen languages, stolen liberty, stolen dignity, stolen children, stolen communities, and stolen freedoms, and damage to the land and environment. Please forgive these massive sins, help us to acknowledge them, help us to speak the truth, and achieve justice and reconciliation.

We confess that our community life is often marred by our personal and institutional sins: greed, selfishness, envy, thoughtlessness, theft and murder, inequality and injustice, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, failing to love our neighbours, and failing to love you.

Thank you for your mercy to us in the life, death and resurrection of your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you that through him you have reconciled us to yourself, forgiven us and cleansed us of our sins, and given us eternal life and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Please help to live in this land in structural and personal equality, justice, mutual respect, and mutual understanding; to share your gifts generously; and to love all our neighbours.

Thank you that your plan is that people from every tribe and language and people and nation come together serve you in this land now, and praise your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, for all eternity.

We ask these prayers in the name of the Lord Jesus. Amen.

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?


Acknowledgement of Country

The Truth in Action step today is to learn more about Acknowledgement of Country, and commit to implementing Acknowledgement of Country personally, publicly, and in a Church context. 

An Acknowledgement of Country can be done by any person. In an official event it would be the most senior person of the organisation or church (i.e. CEO, Board Chair, Senior Pastor, Principal). It should always be at the start of the event or service. An Acknowledgement of Country is a prayer of thanksgiving. Below is standard wording, but as you are moved by heart and mind let your words be led by the Spirit.

"We would like to acknowledge, the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we gather today (insert people and nation if known). We would also like to pay our respects to the Elders past, present and future (or emerging). (Specifically name any Elders or Leaders or other known Aboriginal people known in the room). We acknowledge other Aboriginal peoples present."

Suggested additional wording in a church context:

"They are stewards/caretakers on behalf of our Almighty Creator"

"We promise to walk softly and gently on this land."

Add in the features of the landscape and/or Aboriginal history in the area eg. mountains, rivers, creeks, mangroves, sacred sites.


This post is part of our National Reconciliation Week 2019 series where we are together discovering Reconciliation as Truth and Action.  

Reconciliation Week 2019