Home / News / Moderator calls for healing

Moderator calls for healing

By Andrew Humphries

The Moderator, Rev David Fotheringham, yesterday formally acknowledged the harm that the churches in Victoria which historically came to form part of the Uniting Church had caused to the State’s First Peoples since colonisation.

In doing so, he called on Uniting Church members in Victoria to take part in the journey of healing, and truth telling, between First and Second Peoples.

David’s comments came during a panel appearance, with Catholic and Anglican church representatives, on the final day of ‘Land, Sky and Waters’ hearings at the Yoorrook Justice Commission.

Established following an agreement between the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria and the State Government, the Commission is the first formal truth-telling process into historical and ongoing injustices experienced by First Peoples in Victoria.

The Commission has the powers of a royal commission and has been designed to run in parallel with the Treaty process between the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria and the Victorian Government.

Some of the Commission’s key functions are to establish an official record and greater community understanding of the impact of colonisation and to make recommendations to address injustice and change.

In addressing the Commission yesterday, David spoke of his deep appreciation at being given the opportunity to participate in the truth telling process.

“The Uniting Church supports the objectives of Yoorrook and the process of truth telling, record making, developing understanding and making recommendations for healing and practical change,” he said.

David told the hearing of the Uniting Church’s journey in understanding and acknowledging its history, including church complicity in Government acts that caused immeasurable harm to First Peoples.

“As part of our journey in truth-telling and understanding, and with leadership from the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, in 2009 the Uniting Church in Australia adopted a revised Preamble to our Constitution,” he said.

“The Preamble expressly acknowledges that many in the churches which formed the Uniting Church shared the values of the emerging colonial society, including paternalism and racism towards First Peoples, and were complicit in the injustice that resulted in dispossession of land, language, culture and spirituality.”

In acknowledging that harm, he also spoke of a deep sorrow and offered a heartfelt apology for those actions.

“In the Covenant that the Uniting Church made with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (in 1994) there was certainly recognition, and Pastor Bill Hollingsworth from the UAICC made the remark in his response, that in many ways we saw ourselves as ‘smoothing the pillow for a dying race’,” David said.

“We acknowledge, to our shame, that this was what was occurring and was a reflection of the attitude at the time.”

On the issue of land injustice, David also said:

“The Uniting Church acknowledges that it is the beneficiary of the dispossession of land from First Peoples, and that historical Crown grants of land were made with no consideration of First Peoples’ sovereignty, connection to the land or rights.”

David noted that the Uniting Church in Victoria was ready to engage with recommendations that will come from the Commission’s work and held a long ongoing record of support for Treaty:

“Treaty is very important and the Uniting Church, in fact since 1981, has been advocating for Treaty, and I think ongoing advocacy by the church is certainly one thing that we can offer and will offer.”

David expressed hope that the engagement would further cement the Church, and its members’ commitment and determination to address past injustices inflicted on the state’s First Peoples.

Invited by the Commissioners to address Uniting Church members and the Victorian public, he said:

“To our own Uniting Church membership in Victoria I take this opportunity to remind ourselves that we are on stolen land and to recognise the importance of acknowledging country in all that we do, while hearing the truth that is being brought into the light in this Commission.

“It’s important for us to hear this and to look forward towards more just outcomes for First Peoples, recognising the intergenerational harm that has come from all of this.

“To the people of Victoria I would equally encourage engagement with this understanding of what is the history of these lands now called Victoria, and to engage with the recommendations from this Commission, working towards treaty and truth.”

Yesterday’s hearing ended with a moving recitation from Commissioner Sue-Anne Hunter of four lines from the Archie Roach song, ‘They took the children away’, that speaks to the loss of culture and identity that came with the removal of indigenous children from their families and into missions.

Said to us, “Come, take our hand”
Set us up on mission land
Taught us to read, to write and pray
Then they took the children away

“To hear that lived experience and reflection on how Archie Roach experienced mission life was deeply moving and affecting,” David said.

David’s panel appearance was livestreamed and is now available to watch on the Commission’s website.

The Synod has also made a significant written submission in response to requests from the Commission which may be published at a later date pending determination by the Commission.

Clarification: Some may have seen media reporting around the publication of certain data. Along with our submission, the Synod provided extensive data and commentary to the Commission and made a request for non-publication of a very small amount of confidential and sensitive data. Unfortunately, the Commission was unable to determine our application prior to the panel hearing and to a limited extent, this impacted what could be discussed on the day. We anticipate that the application will be determined shortly. The Commission will then be in a position to make the balance of the Synod’s submission public if it chooses.


Posted in

Related news

Leave a Comment