Say Yes!

18 Jul

Sermon – Christ Church South Yarra

Genesis 27:1-40

Yiradhu marang

(Good day)

Dyiramadilinya badhu Wiradjuri.

(I am proud to be Wiradjuri)

Yuwin ngadhi Glenn Loughrey

(My name is Glenn Loughrey)

Ngadhu banhi-gu gulbarra Wurrundjeri/Boonarong mayiny-galang ngan-gu ngurambang-ga nginha ngan-girra Dhurinya gayi-dhi. (I’d like to acknowledge the Wurrundjeri people whose traditional country this assembly is being held-on.)

Our reading from Genesis begins a journey for Jacob and Esau which does not find its completion until Jacob overnights at Peniel some 25-plus years later. Jacob lives up to his name which means the one who deceives. Jacob is mu-nh-ain-gu-bi-l-dh-ne in Wiradjuri, one who takes advantage of others for their own purposes. Jacob proves to be  a person we would describe as wiraywhinhangan – a wrong-thinking person. Interestingly his wiraywhinhangan is in his genes – his mother puts him up to it and he cheats his brother out of what was lawfully his.

Later in Genesis 32, we find this journey going full circle. At Peniel Jacob wrestles with a young man, some say it’s God, but  I suspect it is the mu-nh-ain-gu-bi-l-dh-ne and his wiraywhinhangan of 25 years before. When Jacob wakes up he had a dislocated hip and walks forever in the moment when he straightened his thinking and faced his conscience. This is moment is the moment of repair of the relationship, in Yolungu, Makarratta, a concept we revisit in the spearing of Jesus on the cross and one which he shows to the disciples in the upper room.

The process of the Statement from the Heart is embedded in both stories and sets us an example for our responsibility to repair the wrong thinking that saw the dispossession of our people of their birthright.

On August 14, 2024, my Wiradjuri mob will remember the declaration of martial law by Governor Brisbane against us in Bathurst, NSW. The war of extermination as it was described had commenced in January and didn’t cease, if it ever has, until December of 1824.

This was a war between the Wiradjuri nation and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It wasn’t the action of disparate squatters but a declared war between nations. Once the “impenetrable” Blue Mountains were crossed in 1813, the colony expanded onto the fertile plains of the west.

Settlement of the new land was initially slow, but when Governor Thomas Brisbane came to power a flood of land grants were made. The influx of colonists put great strain on the traditional food sources and sacred sites of the Wiradjuri. By early 1824, the war had broken out, with the  Wiradjuri adopting a guerrilla-style approach under their leader Windradyne.

In 1824, 16 Aboriginals were killed by soldiers on the Cudgegong River near Mudgee not far from where I grew up and was the beginning of the war of extermination propagated in the Mudgee area by the owner of the property, George Cox.  Cox proclaimed publicly, “the only way to deal with this vermin is to exterminate them –women and children included”. This unleashed hunting parties, poisoning with flour and water, and stirruping, an act too gruesome to describe. The subsequent violence that friends of mine have spoken about is an unwanted history in their family stories. By 1876 no local people remained. The area around Mudgee did indeed live up to the title given to the wars – the war of extermination.

As you are no doubt aware, the last such recorded massacre in Australia took place in 1928, over 100 years after the massacre in the Rylstone/Mudgee area, although there is evidence of continued action against Aboriginal people for some period after that across Australia.

My mother was born in 1928 and my father was born in 1927, 27 years after the man who I think was his grandfather, Jimmy Governor, or as he was made popular by Tom Kenneally and Fred Schepsi, Jimmy Blacksmith in the movie “The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith”. He was hung in 1900 delaying Federation by a year. I was born in a place cleared of Aboriginal people in 1955. Yet my father warned us as small boys not to eat or drink anything we didn’t know where it had come from. My father was Blackfella and I was called YoungBlackfella, and I still am to this day.

Not long after the 1967 referendum, my father sought a loan for a small farm. He was told we don’t lend to people like you Blackfella. At school, I was called the son of a drunk bush black, and parents told their teenagers in my presence, they could be friends with me but just to remember who I was and where I came from. Only last Sunday, after a presentation,  a man asked me, “What is the official definition of an Aboriginal?” and another said, “I have no time for fake, elite Aboriginals.”

This story of genocide (tough word) is not ancient history – it is our contemporary lived experience.

The experience in the Bathurst region confirms the Crown’s complicity in the conflict and does, in this case, refer to a declared war on this continent. Tough stuff to listen to and digest. It is not easy for either side if you have a modicum of compassion for the situation then and now.

Almost 200 years later, what has been the response of First Peoples to the destruction of their link to country, lore, language, and spirituality? How have we responded to the genocide?

Our response is one of absurd compassion embedded in the Statement From the Heart.

  • We do not seek revenge; we seek to walk across the land together building a better future for this country.
  • We seek recognition in the 1901 Constitution, the birth certificate of this nation.
  • We seek a Voice on matters that impact our sovereign relationship with country and kin.
  • We seek a treaty over time identifying how we live together, sharing this space based upon being included in the Constitution.
  • We seek the opportunity to talk about the truth of what happened and what it feels like for both of us to live in this space called Australia.
  • We seek the opportunity to make the changes necessary to become a just and whole nation through Makarrata, the coming together after a dispute.

A quick read of the Statement will reveal no words of demand, violence, or revenge – no evil for evil. Just an open hand and an invitation – a blessing. It is absurd.

What is this blessing?

  • An opportunity has been offered to all non-Indigenous people to begin the process to right the wrongs by welcoming us into their world as equals, persons with a voice, able to contribute equally as co-sovereigns of this land. This invitation is not given to our own people. It is extended to you and if you accept, you will share the blessing of wholeness it leads us toward. We will no longer be persona nullius. We will be seen.
  • If you can accept this offer with a yes, we will also allow you to shape your yes through legislation. We have resisted the temptation to tell you how to make your yes work. We have blessed you with the right and privilege to ensure the legislation is fit for purpose. We have resisted the urge to be colonial and demand you do it our way. We know the impact of doing that as it is what has been done to us from the beginning.

This blessing is of the type of blessing given to a sinful world in the Easter Triduum – the resurrection of the broken body of Christ still carrying the visible signs of his physical destruction. This blessing does not hide the evil done. The scars remain and the Christ asks us, as he did with those in the Upper Room, to look at them, no matter how difficult that may be to do.

Christ’s outstretched hand to Thomas and the others is once again stretched out to us in the Statement from the heart and asks us all to look closely at our history as Jacob does at Peniel. And as Jacob learns to walk differently, we are called to be people who became dhuluyanha people – people who go straight ahead – walk straight and erect and do what is right.

Say Yes!

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