‘The Lazarus of Australia’

‘The Lazarus of Australia’

06 Jul 2017 

Australian history, as taught in the 20th century, involves stirring tales of heroism and adventure in which the Indigenous people occupied the background as wild people who were soon pacificed by the expansion of civilisation. In fact white settlement was accompanied by a war of conquest that killed up to 30,000 Aboriginal people and at least 2000 settlers.  A frontier war of 140 years is the founding conflict that shapes our nation, not the invasion of Turkey in 1915.

Much healing and reconciliation remains to be done in Australia, especially when so much of the reality remains unacknowledged. Books by missionaries of the time show they were aware of this reality, and sought to respond to the profound humanitarian needs that arose from it.

Bishop Gilbert White – the first Bishop of Carpentaria, then the first Bishop of Willochra – wrote in 1917 that “the Aborigine was the Lazarus of Australia: poor, ragged and sick with sores which are the result of contact with the diseases of the white man; hungry because he has been driven from the water holes where alone he can obtain food; unable to defend himself against the wrongs which may be inflicted on him;  he lies at the gate of Australia, so rich, so comfortable and so well fed.”  Anglicans have the least reason to be gathered into this great forgetfulness, the bishop said.

Everything looks different, not just about the past but the present, when we see things for how they truly are. Aboriginal peoples have been dispossessed, under harsh government administration and suffer enduring disadvantage right up to our own day. Nor do I speak only of those in remote areas in Australia. The health status of those living in Fitzroy is the same as those living in Fitzroy Crossing.

As the Anglican Church joins in observing NAIDOC week (named for the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, who first ran the annual NAIDOC week), we remember that working towards reconciliation action plan plays a part in making the future better for us all.

I commend to you this prayer for reconciliation, by Bishop Arthur and Mrs Colleen Malcom.

Lord God, bring us together as one,
reconciled with you and reconciled with each other.
You made us in your likeness,
you gave us your Son, Jesus Christ.
He has given us forgiveness from sin.
Lord God, bring us together as one,
different in culture, but given new life in Jesus Christ,
together as your body, your Church, your people.
Lord God, bring us together as one,
reconciled, healed, forgiven,
sharing you with others as you have called us to do.
In Jesus Christ, let us be together as one.

(A Prayer Book for Australia, Broughton Books 1995, page 203)