Aboriginal Sunday – Solidarity With

17 Jan

An Acknowledgement of Country for the Day.

We acknowledge the continuing custodians of the land, sea, and air where we meet  (insert clan name).  We come to express our solidarity with their ongoing experience of colonisation and their search for justice and recognition. We recognise we are here to listen and learn what it means to be without country on one’s own country. Doing so we can take an active role in recognising their sovereignty and standing with them as they continue the mission commenced by Uncle William Cooper, Uncle Jack Patten, Uncle William Ferguson, Aunty Pearl Gibbs, Aunty Marg Tucker, and others in 1938.

This is unfinished business.

We acknowledge the elders of (insert clan name) who have, who continue  to and who will always care for these lands as we seek to hear their voices, listen to their stories, respect their wisdom, and respond justly to their pleas for justice.


Sunday 21st January is Aboriginal Sunday. You probably don’t know about it. In 1955 it was taken over by a committee and became what we now know as NAIDOC – National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Day of Celebration.

In its original intention it was not a day of celebration. Anything but. For those who proposed it, it was always to be the Sunday before Australia Day which they recognised in 1938 as a Day of Mourning for First Peoples and not a day to celebrate.

On January 26 1938, Aboriginal leaders including William Cooper Bill Ferguson, Jack Patten and Pearl Gibbs met for a Day of Mourning on the same day Australia was celebrating its sesquicentenary. At that meeting they declared they were seeking equality and full citizenship.

The Australian Churches were then asked by Uncle William to set aside the Sunday before January 26 as Aboriginal Sunday (previously called Aborigines’ Day), a day for Christians to act in solidarity with Aboriginal peoples and the injustices being experienced. It was to be a day of active commitment to the cause of recognition and voice, equality, and justice, not just a day of spiritual platitudes and a means to convert First Peoples to Christianity. Many like Cooper already were and he clearly understood the Gospel and the Bible imperative of equality and justice, as all were created equal by God.

We must be careful at this juncture not to appropriate Cooper for our own particular purposes.

  • It is easy to reference statements he is alleged to have made about the need for all Aboriginals to be saved and make him a poster boy for missionary and conversion activity. Some sections of our church do. He took the Gospel seriously when it spoke of justice and equality and was as critical of the failures of the church as he was of governments.
  • We can also reference his actions in protesting the violent acts against the Jewish community committed primarily on the night of 9–10 November 1938 throughout the German Reich and which came to be known as Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) direct to the German Embassy and see him as appropriated and celebrated by the Australian Jewish community, which some do. He was a disciple of justice and held all to the high standard of the Gospel. I suspect that if he was alive today he would be calling the Zionists and Hamas equally to account for their deplorable behaviour.
  • We can highlight his long and extensive activism which continued until his death advocating for a Voice, recognition, equality, and justice. He was a prolific, writer, and speaker. He petitioned King George V for the right to propose a Member of Parliament who directly represented Aboriginal people. Between 1934 and 37 and gained 1,814 signatures but on a constitutional technicality the Government refused to pass the petition to the King. He was one of the founders of the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League. Again ,it was all about justice, fairness and self-determination.

He died in 1941 having, to those looking on, achieved little but he had started a movement of people who continued after him, Pastor Doug Nicholls, Aunty Marg Tucker, Uncle Bill Onus and more, who played a significant role in the successful 1967 referendum to count us in the census and give responsibility for us to the Commonwealth government.

The first Aboriginal Sunday is thought to have occurred in 1941, although it was referenced in a letter from William Cooper to John McEwen, Minister for the Interior, written on 19 January 1938, and referenced in the Herald (Melbourne) newspaper on 18 January 1939[1]

It is in a sense ironic that we come to this day in the wake of the failure of the referendum on the Voice. It would be something if we could say the church was in solidarity with the 73% of our people who voted yes, but alas, that was not the case. As I am aware of many churches holding services this Sunday, I am saddened that when we needed solidarity, we didn’t get it; when the church and its people had a chance to show solidarity, it and they didn’t.

I want to return to the words of the Beatitudes – the reading we read earlier.

Matthew 5:1-12

Welcome to all whose soul is shattered for they will be the custodians of all above and below murrum-bir.

Welcome to all who sigh deeply in sorry business for they will be restored healthy and whole.

Welcome are all who are gentle in their living with kin, for they will breathe in their country all over.

Welcome are those who are impatient for rightness and truth in relationships for they will be satisfied.

Welcome are those who respect and honour others, for they will receive that which is good and sweet.

Welcome are those who are strong in knowing country like the river redgum with its roots deep in our Mother, for they will see.

Welcome are those who are peaceful in living, for they will carry the fire of God.

Welcome are those who are driven out and wronged for their life of rightness and truth in relationships for they will be the custodians of all above and below murrum-bir.

In paraphrasing the text into Wiradjuri we find ourselves standing a little outside the idea of God blessing us, individually and corporately. This is not about receiving something for our experiences but about being included, welcomed into the community of Christ or country[2].

There is no physical blessing as some might see it, simply a sense of belonging, being a part of, of being welcomed in. In our communities this comes with privileges which are, paradoxically responsibilities.

Being welcomed means you are to welcome those who welcome you. You cannot accept the welcome without reciprocating.

  • This is a passage of welcome into a community of inclusion for those who are in tune with the heart of country, Christ. Welcome in most of our languages carry the sense of coming with intent, the intent to be positive in life whether that life is one of joy and happiness or one of sadness and grief. The intent of country/Christ is to welcome us and make a safe place for us in a universe that is rarely safe and to provide us with all that we need. It reminds us that we are indigenous to the universe and belong no matter what those who come with an intention that is at odds with country say. Those who do harm through violence, dispossession, and exclusion at not at peace with country and themselves and bring with them destruction and death.
  • This a passage of opposites – it turns upside down the intention of a world that seeks growth, progress, success, at the cost of another – getting more so others get less. Each of the statements challenge the rules of modernity and enlightenment and takes us back to the ancient and the pre-existent – the world of all as against the world of the privileged and the entitled.
  • This passage is not about who will win but who will be welcomed. Only those who welcome and include, who feel the pain of others, who live in a way that preferences the whole, who are honest with loss and grief, who have a passion for rightness or justice, and more. These will be welcome.
  • This passage suggests those who will not be welcomed are those that exclude for an arbitrary reason focussed on the idea of difference, those who are detached from the pain and suffering of others, especially those who are different to you, those who live as individuals seeking gain only for self and those who are perceived to be self, those for whom the ends justify the means and everything is appropriate if it furthers their ends. This will not be welcome.
  • This is a passage about solidarity. It is Jesus announcing solidarity with humanity, particularly that part of humanity which is not welcome in the world. It is welcome in Jesus’s kin-dom. It is the norm in our communities BCP (before Cook and Philip) and remains present despite the disappointments and betrayals. Uncle William Cooper and his companions on the way understood this and sought from those who professed to follow Jesus, solidarity, fellow travellers who would stand with, not for, and allow us to re-exist what has been taken away. Fellow travellers who do not want to convert us, simply to welcome us and allow us to be human in the same way as they are, only different. Fellow travellers who take the message to love your neighbour as yourself seriously.

I am sorry Uncle, after 95 years, we are no closer than when you left us in 1941.

Aboriginal Sunday & solidarity with us? Still waiting.


[1] Common Grace

[2] Garry Deverell says country is our Christ, not the same but similar.

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