When you drive streets in Maclean lined with tartan telegraph poles and hear the skirl of the bagpipes echoing in the main street, you know the town is definitely a stronghold of Australia’s Scots history. And mine for that matter. Over two million of us claim Scots ancestry – my grandchildren have the blood of the Baird, Carey, Murray and McDonald clans in their veins.
So, I spent a day or two there recently, looking under the ancestral kilt to see why big numbers of Scots moved here in the mid-1800’s. I was heartened to discover that the claim we Australians make for having one of the best lifestyles in the world, could well have been built on a bedrock of purposeful duty to God mined out of bare hills and heather half a world away in Scotland.
For forty years I’ve worked alongside half a dozen or more Aboriginal elders and appreciated their courage and compassion. Most of them have been men and women of strong Christian faith who didn’t just talk about reconciliation, but practised it. This YouTube clip was produced for this NAIDOC week which has the theme 'For our Elders'. It is my tribute to elders of the past who were also men and women who followed Jesus along paths marked by suffering, stood for justice and gave a voice to their people. They shone because of their faith. In this picture I'm standing with my friend Phil Sullivan near the rock paintings at Mt Gundabooka National Park where he was serving as a National Parks Ranger. Phil is a respected elder of the Ngemba people and unafraid of articulating his Christian convictions.
‘For Our Elders’ is the catch cry of NAIDOC WEEK 2023. This story is told to honour brave and compassionate men and women who pioneered the cause of Aboriginal civil rights in Australia.
In May 1937, a remarkable event took place in Melbourne. The grand finale of the concert marking the city’s foundation was an aboriginal choir singing ‘Burra Phara’, an African- American spiritual translated into the Yorta Yorta language. The Cummerugunga choir had learned it from black American students from Fiske University in Tennessee, who visited their Maloga mission near Echuca in 1886. The passionate music, expressing the yearning of the oppressed Hebrew people for freedom from Egyptian slavery, reached across 3000 years to touch the hearts of Australian aboriginals.
Almost certainly in the audience was a young William Cooper, the man destined to become one of the great Aboriginal elders who, like Moses, led his people on the long road to freedom. Wherever he went rousing support for his people’s civil rights, he was accompanied by a quartet who sang biblical songs like this.
William Cooper, with his distinctive moustache, is pictured here with family members who supported him.
Join The Outback Historian, Paul Roe, on an unforgettable journey into Australia's Past as he follows the footprints of the Master Storyteller and uncovers unknown treasures of the nation.