Reflections on the Invasion in Australia

Dennis Corowa

 

Why Have Aboriginal People Faced so much Injustice and Pain over the Past 200 Years?

Joining the Congress was the beginning of a challenge for me to think deeply about what had happened to Aboriginals in the past. God is ever present in all of Creation. Nothing happens without Him knowing. I needed to try to understand why God has allowed all of the injustice to go on in this country for so long.

As we look at history and recognize what was going on throughout the world at that time, we know that at some point this country was going to be colonized by one of the exploring nations. God with His caring involvement in all of Creation at all times was in the midst of this history. God leaves nothing unchecked, which brings us to ask, "Why did God allow suffering and injustice to happen to our people?"

Aboriginal people have suffered gross injustices during the past 200 years of European settlement in Australia. There has never been any real attempt by governments to curb these injustices to our people until recently. There was never any treaty or pact made by the British or Australian governments that would lend any support to recognition of the rights of the indigenous landlords. They were evicted from what was their God-given inheritance in a devastating way. Their God-given right to the occupation of this land has never been recognized or respected. The settlement of the Europeans in Australia was a total invasion of their Aboriginal rights to this land.

What Happened when the "Church" Arrived?

With the white people there came Christianity. The government and church had a close association during the period of settlement. As time went on, this association grew wider apart as the Church and the State took on their individual roles in this country.

The early decisions and policies of some missionary churches caused great harm to the language, culture, family life and tribal unity of the people. The ill-prepared missionary going in with a paternalistic attitude was not sensitive to our people. There was no effort to seek the good qualities of our people’s culture.

Our people were hunters, gatherers and excellent bushmen. Their contribution to settlement in this land could have been very helpful if the invaders had been more humane in their attitudes.

How Should We Understand This Suffering?

The suffering of nations has always been a part of world history. The Bible tells us that suffering began with Adam and Eve and their children. Jealousy, greed and sinful desires cause humankind to spread the seed of death and destruction.

People on an individual and national basis have always fallen into the devil’s trap and carried out his work of terror waged against human life. The cry for justice goes to the ear of God when the innocent or weak suffer at the hands of sinful aggression.

God has heard the cry and witnessed every tear as men, women and children suffer because of the terror waged on this most precious species in all of Creation. God in His divine wisdom and by His sovereign will has allowed suffering to go on.

Suffering, however, never goes unchecked. God knows even if a sparrow should fall. How much more does God care for one created in the divine image. The cry for justice is born in pain.

Out of Suffering Comes...?

God knew the ravages of sin that would infect the world and would seek to destroy all parts of the Creation. The blood of the innocent though will be avenged.

Joseph suffered the effects of sin waged against him but was ultimately victorious in fulfilling God’s plan in his life. God’s plan arises victorious out of suffering.

Jesus’ suffering and death has paid the price of sin for all humankind. Out of suffering, God brings life. Our Father God makes all things serve His purpose. Out of a bad situation, God will bring good. Because of sin, Creation suffers many casualties.

The prophets in the Old Testament continually addressed the failings of the nation Israel. When Israel disobeyed God, they fell into moral and spiritual decay. The commands of God given through Moses were to be the principles on which Israel would build their social structure. They would undergird leadership and give protection, not only to Israel, but to those who sought friendship with them.

When Israel weakened as a nation and suffered at the hands of neighboring nations, the prophets interpreted their defeat as being punishment for their moral and spiritual failings. They highlighted that the affairs of a nation will be heard by God. The deep impressions of past atrocities will be the evidence that will convict a nation or individual of their guilt.

In Australia today we have the task of picking up the shattered pieces of a broken indigenous society. As nations developed and began to move throughout the world seeking to harness natural resources, sin and corruption became part of their program of development. They were blinded by the anxiety to develop and take possession of all that was before them.

Our Aboriginal people suffered innocently at the hands of the invaders of this country. The impact on the social organization of our people was devastating. Their lifestyle was delicately interwoven with nature.

As the spread of the new foreign influence on the land began to take place, our people witnessed the wave of destruction on their culture and land. As the invasion by European nations began to take place, some of their savage traits came out very sharply.

Our people had to consider the cost of warfare and opposition to the invaders. As they faced the white man’s force of gun power, their loss of life and land and the suffering of innocent women and children, they had to make the choice of fighting or surrendering.

Our people began to settle on the fringes of white settlement. Most settled under the domination of the missionary and suffered a further loss of their culture and sometimes a distorted view of the Gospel.

The resilience of Aboriginal culture has allowed our people to maintain their cry for identity. God’s grace in preserving the culture through groups of traditional people in some parts of Australia has been a blessing.

Traditional and urban people will work together in bringing about changes that will affect the future of our people. The United Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress in adopting a holistic style of ministry presses on in Christ Jesus seeking to address the social, spiritual and physical needs of our people.

What is the Challenge Facing the Church Now?

The Australian church of today is faced with the task of looking at the issues that affect our indigenous people, especially their inability to find an appropriate place in the society that surrounds them. The past has affected the present, and the present will affect the future.

With God’s strength, the Church will address these issues and will work toward a meaningful future for our people. The Church is itself the facilitator of our Lord Jesus Christ. With the program of the Gospel, the Church will enable our people to find true citizenship in theKingdom ofGod on Earth and in this, their God-given country.

Our people are not a fringe church but are with the rest of God’s people in the center of His heart. Aboriginal theology will enrich the Church and be a strength to the body. God has given our people a platform in the Church today. Their voice will be the cry of their people.

God has always been involved in suffering, and evidence at hand says that it is time for the Aboriginal and Islander people to be involved in building Christ’s church in Australia. On a foundation of suffering and with forgiveness in their hearts, Aboriginal and Islander people of Australia will be called to serve the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, "You will always have the poor with you." We have the poor because of the past injustices. How we treat our fellow men, women and children today and how we manage to take care of the natural resources God has given Australians will bear witness to the measure of our loyalty to our Creator, the God of heaven and all of the universe, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.


(The author, an Aboriginal, is the pastor of the West End Uniting Church in Townsville in the state of Queensland. This reflection was written as part of his studies in preparation for his ordination and was presented at the national meeting of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress [UAICC] held in Sydney in November 1990.)