“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-20
One of the most important issues facing all Australians is the question of an amendment to the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of this great and beautiful land in which we are so privileged to live. Aboriginal peoples have cared for this country and all its creatures for 60,000 years. Dispossession by newcomers since 1788 has caused great grief to them and devastation to the country they cherish as their mother.
The slogan for NAIDOC Week some years ago was ‘White Australia has a Black History’. The late Ken Hampton, first Aboriginal Anglican priest in South Australia, said, “They stole our land, they stole our children, they tried to suppress our languages and our culture.* Although our life cycle has been and still is filled with all the pitfalls of discrimination, we have survived.” **
Wise Anangu pastor Keith Peters, whose people suffered removal from their home and heart lands and its devastation by the British nuclear tests from 1953 to 1963 said, “God’s law and Aboriginal law, they fit together. There was no justice in the early days for my peoples. When Christ came from heaven he brought a very loving kind of justice. He died to bring us all together, bring all creation together in the unity of God. It’s called reconciliation. That’s why Aboriginal peoples want recognition in the Constitution, to bring white culture and black together.” ***
In the 1967 Commonwealth Referendum, Australians voted overwhelmingly that Aboriginal peoples, who up till then had not been counted in the census, should be recognised as citizens. Now we are looking towards another equally important referendum, to decide whether to recognise them in the Constitution. As Christ’s ambassadors let us reach out to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to work in hearts and minds of Australians of all races and backgrounds with the message of reconciliation. Help us all to realise that only when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are recognised in the Constitution will Australia become the nation we should be.
Christobel Mattingley is an award-winning writer. For most of the 1980s she worked with Aboriginal people and researched the history ‘Survival in Our Land’. In 1990 she received the Advance Australia Award for Service to Literature, and in 1996 she was made a Member of the Order of Australia for service to literature, particularly children’s literature, and for community service through her commitment to social and cultural issues.
* Ken Hampton, letter to the editor, Australian, July 1987
** p.307. Ken Hampton: Survival in Our Own Land edited and researched by Christobel Mattingley; co-edited by Ken Hampton, Adelaide, Wakefield press, 1988.
*** Keith Peters pers. comm. Christobel Mattingley 3 July 2014.