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Australian Reconciliation

Visible and Valued, Australia's First People and the Constitution

Given the interest among Wellspringers in Australia's First Peoples and the Constituion at the Sydney GAthering, I would like to refer you to this resource from the Anglican Diocese of Perth. You can access the resource from this link

The authors are Elizabeth Smith and Carolyn Tan

Elizabeth Smith is an Anglican priest serving as Mission Plan Coordinator in the Diocese of Perth. She is a member of the General Synod Liturgy Commission.
Carolyn Tan is an Anglican lay woman, and a member of the General Synod Public Affairs Commission and the Perth Social Responsibilities Commission. She is a lawyer specializing in Native Title law, and recently completed a PhD on the inadequacies of Western legal categories for dealing with Indigenous understandings of sacred space.

AAANZ Mailing

Read Online at: AAANZ Mailing
We include information about several helpful DVDs today – stories of reconciliation that need a wider audience.

NAIDOC Yirrkala Bark Petitions and Recognition of Some Christian Support

From Alex Mills, a member of the Uniting Church in Taree and an advocate within the Uniting Church for the inclusion of religious influences in the study of history in schools.

Alec Mills crop

I note that this year the NAIDOC week theme is Yirrkala Bark Petitions 1963 which I consider is a great initiative.

The NAIDOC website makes no acknowledgement of the essential support of missionaries and other Christians in the development of the idea for a bark petition. Below I provide some additional information based on material from "One Blood" by the Rev Dr John Harris.

My background: I have been involved in issues of Indigenous advancement since 1965 when I was at university. I contributed a timely (but small part) in advocating for a Select Committee of Parliament in NSW on Aborigines, and campaigned for the Commonwealth Government to have power to legislate for Aborigines (worked for an MP). In Taree my activities included the promotion of Ella Simon’s book “Through My Eyes” as a text book in schools, and the publication of a study guide (with Mid North Coast Presbytery Support), member of committees with Aboriginal people; and spoke at a large rally in support of flying the Aboriginal flag outside the Council Chambers.

The website for 2013 National NAIDOC Week Theme: 7 - 14 July states:

"The theme for NAIDOC Week 2013 is We value the vision: Yirrkala Bark Petitions 1963. This year's theme proudly celebrates the 50th anniversary of the presentation of the Yirrkala Bark Petitions to the Federal Parliament. In August 1963, the Yolngu people of Yirrkala in northeast Arnhem Land sent two bark petitions - framed by traditional ochre paintings of clan designs - to the Australian House of Representatives. The petitions protested the Commonwealth's granting of mining rights on land excised from Arnhem Land reserve and sought the recognition by the Australian Parliament of the Yolngu peoples' traditional rights and ownership of their lands."

To read the balance of the statement and to find a link to further information, go to:

Christian Support for the Initiative
Missionaries, other Christians, and non-Christians supported the Yolngu people who lived on Yirrkala Methodist mission. When the superintendent of the Yirrkala mission, the Rev Edgar Wells, found out that the government was going to reduce the mission land to half-a-square mile, on 20 February 1963 he telegrammed nine leading newspapers, individuals and organisations informing them of the Yolngu people's situation. Presumably this was after discussion with Yolngu people. The telegrams led to international publicity. Members of parliament, Gordon Bryant and Kim Beazley, a Christian, visited Yirrkala in July 1963. "The Aborigines wanted to petition the prime minister.”

It was in the new Yirrkala church, with its impressive Aboriginal paintings...that Beazley conceived the idea that the petition be a bark painting. He suggested this to the people." (Harris p.811) A Christian linguist assisted with the translation of the petition.

A NAIDOC recommended website says: "Only months prior to the 1963 bark petitions, the clans of the Gove Peninsula had recorded their title to lands in paintings on two great panels for the Yirrkala Methodist Mission Church". As a result of the petition, Beazley moved that a select committee be appointed to enquire into the grievances of the Yirrkala Aborigines. It was accepted on 12 September 1963. (Harris p.812) "Members [of the committee] were impressed with the intellectual competence of the Aboriginal witnesses and their grasp of the issues when giving evidence in their own languages through a translator....The Select Committee found that the Yirrkala people had not been consulted at all in matters drastically affecting their future." (Harris p.813) At the time of the Methodist Overseas Mission Board's ratification of mining, no mining company, government or church representative spoke to, listened to, or consulted Aboriginal people.

Wandjak, a Yolngu, "said in reference to the land dispute: 'The Wells [Edgar and wife Ann] were the only missionaries who really wanted to help the Aborigines.'" (Harris p.814) A number of Methodist clergy and lay people were so convicted of their Christian duty to support the Aboriginal people of Yirrkala in their quest to be able to make decisions about the future of their land, that they offered personally to finance an appeal. In March 1971, Judge J. Blackburn ruled against the Aborigines. (Harris p.819)

Additional resources to those provided by the NAIDOC webpage:

"One Blood" by Rev Dr John Harris at

If you would like me to send you some excerpts from "One Blood" or from other resources please contact me This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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