Last year I was moved by the reflections of a local senior Aboriginal gentleman sharing his story. It was part of an event organised by Rockingham Council. We have a deeply appreciative, and supportive relationship with Rockingham Council. Mayor Barry Sammels is a welcomed, familiar visitor to SCBC. By welcoming me to this year’s reconciliation event, Mayor Sammels acknowledged that our community wants to be part of a positive future that builds upon relationships of trust, respect and a shared sense of fun in the adventures that come our way.
This year I had the honour and privilege to attend another reconciliation event. Again, the experience was unsettlingly emotional. Hearing local Elder Theresa Wally’s firsthand account of being taken from her bed as a young child (re Stolen Generation) brought tears to my eyes. As a parent, I found it confronting to imagine any of my children being taken from me and my family.
Theresa spoke softly and eloquently. In her voice and story, it was impossible not to sense her sadness. Beyond sadness, it was equally impossible not to feel the joy she has for her family, her culture and life. She recounted being taken to New Norcia. At the end of her time there, she was on her own. Despite being stolen from her family and community, she recounted the words of a Salvation Army song she had later learned: “My cup is full and running over.” Theresa described how she is now full of love; the love of her family and of others.
I felt profoundly challenged and affected by her strength to become transformed by the power of love.
Following is the article I wrote to help create a greater understanding of how we to got here.
A Principal for Reconciliation
To help with context, I write as an ordinary Australian citizen, with the proud sensitivity of a brother-in-law, to a much loved, indigenous member of my family. Her land is in Victoria. Consequently, I am personally and proudly connected to our nation’s Aboriginal community. In this article, legal insights relating to Australia’s history were drawn from one of my past legal texts: ‘Laying Down the Law’ (6th Ed., 2005).
Children made in God’s image.
All staff at SCBC hold the belief that children are made in the image of God. SCBC is a Christian community and we take our reference point from the Bible. Over centuries, Christian beliefs have shaped and formed our Australian society. The Bible has given significant guidance to our laws and culture. One of the Bible’s best known teachings is that of the ‘golden rule’:‘Love your neighbour’.
When studying Law, I became very interested in Torts. A ‘tort’ is a civil (not criminal) wrong. If a wrong is proved, typically justice is decided in the form of financial compensation. Negligence is an example within Torts Law. Someone (or organisation) does something lawfully wrong, and, if on the balance of probabilities, it is proven to be true, compensation is awarded, typically in the form of money.
This is a helpful backdrop of information to help understand the significance of Sorry Day. It was Australia’s National Sorry Day. You can read about the significance at http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/sorry-day-stolen-generations
You most likely will remember a famous Parliamentary speech made by the then Prime Minister of Australia, Hon Kevin Rudd, on the 13th February 2008. Below is a brief extract. You can read the full statement at http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/our-country/our-people/apology-to-australias-indigenous-peoples
“We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country. For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry …”
Could we have avoided the pain caused to our Aboriginal community?
The significance of sharing an insight to Torts Law is that in the Tort of ‘Negligence’, the biblical principle of ‘loving your neighbour’ underpins the very law itself. Negligence asks the question: “Who is my neighbour?” If it can be established that I have a responsibility to care for my neighbour, then a legal wrongdoing can be established if my lack of care has resulted in an injury to my neighbour.
For as long as I can remember, I knew that there were at least 2 important ‘rules’ (laws) in the Bible. They are in order of priority:
- ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30)
- ‘The second is this:‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.’ (Mark 12:31)
Recognising the above referenced facts (see web references) speak for themselves, my interest is to ask the question: “Could we have avoided the past pain caused to our Aboriginal community?” I’m also interested in the question: “How can we negate harm in the future?”
Quick history lesson: England was invaded, and Australia was colonised.
William, the Duke of Normandy invaded and conquered England in 1066. After slaying England’s King Harold at the battle of Hastings, he declared that the old system of Anglo-Saxton rules would remain in force. Over time, he enabled the existing laws (based upon local customs) to become more commonly known. Hence the emergence of ‘common law’. England developed the Common Law. England’s Common Law was transplanted into Australian soil by British settlers in Sydney Cove on 26th January 1788.
How could the English impose their law when Aboriginal families had been living in Australia for approximately 40,000 years?
Traditionally, international law recognised 3 ways for a country to acquire new territory: conquest, cession (giving up sovereignty/power over your land to another country), and settlement. Here’s the rub. At the time an English flag was stuck into the sand of Sydney Cove, the justification used was that Australia was being ‘settled’ by the new owners (English). Said in a legal way, the English Law doctrine of ‘terra nullius’ was declared.
Mabo changed our understanding of what really happened.
Eddie Mabo challenged the legal correctness of ‘terra nullius’. Using the English Law, he was assisted to prove that Australia was inhabited at the time that the British used international law to declare his land in Australia was actually inhabited and owned by Aboriginals. When the British arrived in Sydney, international law used‘settlement’ as a legal reasoning for declaring the land was not inhabited by civilised people. Eddie Mabo challenged this fundamental assumption. The High Court of Australia agreed, and the concept of land rights gained significant legal momentum. The High Court decision signalled the Australian community was increasingly recognising the significance and importance of Aboriginal culture.
‘How can we as individuals and as a nation, reflect God’s love; to each other, especially our indigenous community?’
Jesus Christ said we should love our neighbour. In Torts Law (e.g. Duty of Care), the fundamental question is asked: “Who is your neighbour?”. What is your thoughts? For me, it includes the people that I share life with; at home, in work, and in community. The Bible calls us to love. ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 7).
On the 13th February 2008, the Prime Minister said sorry for the past. We can’t change our countries history, but we can shape our nation’s future with love. At SCBC, we believe we are ALL made in the image of God.