Real change in relationships between First and Second Peoples requires humility, bravery and honesty. And that is hard. After all, we are talking about starting with, at best, damaged relationships, or, as the anthropologist W.E.H. Stanner once named: the great Australian silence, that insidious avoidance of relationship.1
Happily, it is at least partly through our journey with Tearfund that my wife Miriam and I have discovered a little of that humility, a touch of that courage, and the space in which to have some honest conversations with ourselves and with the numerous First Peoples we have come to know over many years. We are still on the journey.
Although there have been many days when we have wept and raged at the injustice of our systems and the damage perpetrated by our dominant culture, we still believe change is possible. We believe because we have seen it, tasted it and celebrated it. And we know this is true because we have done so with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters. We celebrate survival, connection to land and water, the depth of love for family and country, the will to go on, to transmit culture and faith across generations.
All of this is hard, but it is also coloured with joy. It has been our privilege to be present to our friends along this way of change. So many things outwardly (and too often inwardly) remain the same: there is poverty, trauma, disease, and yes, sometimes violence. And yet we see people determined to overcome these obstacles, to not be fated to disappear, but to believe their children and descendants will thrive once more.
There is nothing more inspiring to us than First Peoples staying true, navigating this moment despite every obstacle laid in their – daily – path. That is where we learned about humility, bravery and honesty. Tearfund put us in these places, because within the Tearfund network there have always been people who sought out this path of relating, of connecting, of questioning.
It was over 25 years ago that Aunty Jean Phillips spoke at our local church in Sydney, and then at an event we were able to organise through our local Tearfund support group.
With that group we walked across the Harbour Bridge to say “Sorry”.
With Aunty Jean’s direction, we got to know the Mount Druitt Indigenous Church where Neville and Kathy Naden and Rick and Kayleen Manton were ministering.
We visited Congress, the Uniting Church’s First Peoples movement in NSW. And as we discovered that we were, in fact, welcomed (in ways that are still so rarely reciprocated!), we felt called to invite others on the same journey.
It was from that welcome that we were involved in connecting the little Blue Mountains Tearfund group, of which we were members, to visit and connect with that church in Western Sydney. And members of that group are still involved with that church today. We talked about ourselves as being “friends of the Mount Druitt Indigenous Church”. Nothing more, nothing less.
Relationship as friendship – that was and is our goal. Tearfund got us started on that path and made it possible for others to join us. Perhaps it is because relationship has been so core to Tearfund's DNA? What we have discovered is that change is possible: a change in our own attitudes and assumptions that better equips us to be a small part of the change that First Peoples actually lead, a change of heart.
1. Stanner, W. E. H. (1968). After the dreaming: Boyer lectures. Australian Broadcasting Company. Sydney