I’m really energised by people who are stepping out to discover our Australian faith stories ‘on location’. I was intrigued when my friend Mawson Skidmore told me how he had plunged students from his English as a Second Language course into a firsthand experience of the Aboriginal’s civil rights struggle at the Cummeragunja ‘scholars hut’ that sits almost forgotten on the Murray River near Echuca. Listen to his reaction.
“My impression after getting to know a few of these stories was – ‘Why didn't I know anything about this?' - they are pretty amazing and are not peripheral in the history of the nation (although peripheral in the told history). The teacher of the second class I took with mine up to Cummeragunja had the same response. I wrote and thanked the Land Council Head (Hadyn Love) for organising for someone to come and show us around the school house and the cemetery and let him know some of my musings…that the schoolhouse should be a National Monument - it's a story that should be told and told well.
We watched your clip on Daniel Matthews today [see other resources at the end of this blog] - and it is like what you were saying - there's a fair bit of darkness to much of that story (which shouldn't be shied away from) - but at Maloga and Cummeragunja and the people that went out from there, there are flames of light and hope.”
Steve their guide was a Yorta Yorta man – a descendant of one of two 14-year-old girls that Daniel Matthews rescued from pastoral workers in the early days of settlement when Aboriginal women were sometimes chained to the men’s beds. He had nothing bad to say about Matthews - he said he'd been called many things, but what he was, was a humanitarian.
Standing by the grave of civil rights pioneer William Cooper, Steve told this group of multi-cultural students that it wasn't that hard for Aboriginal people like William to accept Christianity, because they already believed in the Great Creator Spirit.
Mawson’s class later heard the grandson of another product of Cummeragunja, Pastor Doug Nicholls, explain that his grandfather was talking about reconciliation years before others. He would use the illustration of the keys on the piano. ‘You can play either just the white keys or just the black, but if you want to get harmony, then you need to play both.’
The majority of the listening students were displaced Karen – a mostly Christian minority group driven out of their native Myanmar in a recent conflict. Reports from among the 400,000 refugees document slave labour, systematic rape, the conscription of child soldiers, massacres and the deliberate destruction of villages, food sources and medical services. The passion of these young men and women is to become qualified so that they can help their own people.
It would be powerful if exposure to the story of these Aboriginal Christian leaders inspired them in their quest. Daniel Matthews could never have imagined that the little sanctuary he built for displaced Aboriginals on the Murray a century and a half ago, might one day be sending out flames of hope for peoples far beyond Australia.
See also, on this website,
Below are relevant, past videos from Paul's YouTube channel.
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.