As a country we have been on a journey of reconciliation for over 50 years. Some of the seminal moments of this journey include:
- the 1967 referendum where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders College were acknowledged as citizens of this country, with the Australian Constitution being amended so that the Commonwealth Parliament could make laws with respect to Aboriginal people, as well as enabling them to be counted in national censuses;
- in 1992, the recognition of native title with the High Court Mabo decision; and
- the 2008 national apology by Prime Minister Rudd to our First Nations people, especially those of the Stolen Generations.
These have all been important steps on the ongoing journey of reconciliation within our country.
National Reconciliation Week started in 1993 as the Week of Prayer for Reconciliation as a way of major faith communities acknowledging the International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. In 1996 the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation launched our country’s first National Reconciliation Week. Reconciliation Australia’s vision of reconciliation is based on five interrelated dimensions: historical acceptance, race relations, equality and equity, institutional integrity and unity. Further information about these dimensions can be found here.
This year’s theme for National Reconciliation Week (27 May – 3 June) is “More than a word – Reconciliation takes Action”. We had a moving College Assembly on Sorry Day – 26 May. For me, it was a wonderful reminder how, in the last three decades, the Riverview Community has changed and grown in our commitment to reconciliation. In addition to this, I have been conscious this week of how our First Nations students are a gift and blessing to our school community. It was a moment of grace for our staff and students to engage with Kaleb Taylor and our First Nations students as they proudly shared their experiences and cultures with our community through song, dance and speeches.
One of the many ways Kaleb and our First Nations students are a blessing to our community is that they offer us the gift of their presence and the invitation to enter into deeper relationship. In coming to know each other and embracing the gift of friendship, we have the possibility of learning directly from First Nations people. We can learn about the richness of the oldest living culture in our world, as well as the suffering, pain and trauma that they have experienced since the beginning of European settlement in 1788, just a short distance down the Lane Cove River. Genuine relationship enables the possibility of transformation and an accompanying conversion of heart, helping each of us to learn from each other, deepening our respect and desire to promote the fundamental dignity of each human person.
One of the ways in which the Society of Jesus describes itself is that we are “companions in a mission of reconciliation and justice.” In 2016, at General Congregation 36, all Jesuits were reminded that we are called to be reconciled with our God, within humanity and with creation. One of the current apostolic priorities of the Jesuits within Australia is “to heal humanity and our world”. A tangible expression of this within the Australian Province is the Bookends Project which “expresses our commitment to justice for Australia’s First Nations people and for the country’s most recent arrivals, refugees and people seeking asylum”.
Jesuits first encountered Australia’s First Nations peoples in 1848 when they arrived at Sevenhill in the Clare Valley in South Australia. These early pioneering Jesuits had come as chaplains accompanying refugees from Austria and Silesia, who were seeking to make new lives for themselves, away from the conflicts taking place in Europe. Several decades later in 1882, the Austrian Jesuit mission at Sevenhill established the Daly River Mission in the Northern Territory. Over the next twenty years the Jesuits lived with the First Nations people, learnt the different local languages and wrote and printed the first Larrakia language book. One of the early Jesuits working in the Daly River Mission was Fr Donald MacKillop SJ (pictured right), the brother of Saint Mary MacKillop. The four mission stations in the Northern Territory closed in 1899 due to funding challenges as well as a number of natural disasters associated with flooding.
Since the 1970s, Jesuits have worked directly with a number of First Nations communities in both remote desert areas, such as Balgo in Western Australia, and more recently in urban areas including our current presence and commitment at Holy Family Parish in Mt Druitt and the Jesuit primary school Redfern Jarjum College. Both of these communities are supported strongly by many people within the Riverview Community, especially in this past year with the challenges flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you for the support you give to these Jesuit works, enabling all of us to make an active contribution to the ongoing journey of reconciliation within Australia.
Within our own community, I am immensely proud of our commitment to our First Nations students. I want to acknowledge and thank Kaleb Taylor, Dom Wilkinson and the Enrichment Team; our Pastoral Care Team, especially our Heads of House; and our Boarding Team, especially Adrian Byrne and the Heads of Division; as well as our teachers and coaches who through their actions each day contribute to the journey of reconciliation within our country.