Australia – whose land? A call for recompense
by Peter J H Adam, BD, MTh, PhD
The Rev'd Dr Peter Adam was ordained in Melbourne in 1970, and is the Principal of Ridley College and Canon of St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia. He has written extensively and has widespread experience as a preacher and teacher in Australia and abroad.
DOWNLOAD: Dr Peter Adam Lecture Notes (pdf)
Barney Zwartz | www.brisbanetimes.com.au | August 11, 2009
All non-Aboriginal Australians should be prepared to leave the country if the indigenous people want that, making restitution for the vile sin of genocide, an Anglican leader said last night.
If they stayed, they would have to provide whatever recompense indigenous peoples thought appropriate, the Reverend Peter Adam said.
"It would in fact be possible, even if very difficult and complicated, for Europeans and others to leave Australia. I am not sure where we would go, but that would be our problem," he said.
Dr Adam, principal of Ridley College, the main Anglican theological college in Victoria, was giving the NSW Baptist Union's annual lecture at Morling College, at Macquarie Park.
Dr Adam said Christian teaching required either restitution - returning what was stolen, the land - or recompense. If those who arrived after 1788 did not leave, they would need to ask each of the indigenous peoples what kind of recompense would be appropriate. This would be complicated and extensive but must be done or the genocide would be trivialised.
"No recompense could ever be satisfactory because what was done was so vile, so immense, so universal, so pervasive, so destructive, so devastating and so irreparable." Dr Adam acknowledged that some people had done their best to remedy wrongs, including some government actions, but something "more drastic" was required.
Dr Adam said churches shared responsibility because the land and wealth of churches came from land stolen from indigenous people. "The prosperity of our churches has come from the proceeds of crime. Our houses, our churches, our colleges, our shops, our sport grounds, our parks, our courts, our parliaments, our prisons, our hospitals, our roads, our reservoirs are stolen property."
Pay up or leave: our duty to the Aboriginal people
Peter Adam | www.smh.com.au | August 12, 2009
Download Copy of Dr Peter Adam Lecture notes
Australia is a particularly clear example of the continuity of indigenous ownership and possession of the land. While European nations returned African land to indigenous ownership, that has not happened in Australia, New Zealand the United States or Canada. The British left India, the Dutch left Indonesia. Why has it not happened here?
The practical answer is that the indigenous Indians, Africans and Indonesians were clearly in the majority, whereas in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, they are not. However, that is to say that genocide is to be rewarded. It would in fact be possible, even if very difficult and complicated for Europeans and others to leave Australia. I am not sure where we would go, but that would be our problem.
God's commandments are clear: ''You shall not murder … you shall not steal … you shall not covet.'' But we Europeans coveted space for a penal colony, new land, new opportunities and great wealth. We coveted, and so we stole, and so we murdered.
It is right to say sorry. For they were serious crimes and sins. They included the theft of land, which was not only the theft of livelihood, but also the theft of home, identity, and religion. They included murder and manslaughter, the destruction of social structures and culture, the breaking up of families, the desecration of the dead, and genocide, with no legitimate justification.
But are we responsible for the sins of others? As far as I know, none of my ancestors killed any indigenous people. But we have benefited from death and dispossession, and have grown wealthy from the poverty of others. If I discovered my grandfather had killed a man and plundered his property, I think I would try to find any descendants of the murdered man and at least say sorry. For I would have benefited from that crime.
But what of the defence that many Europeans did not intend to do evil? Unintended evil can still have grave consequences. If, by accident, I kill a person while driving my car, I have to face the reality of what has happened. In that situation, I would still think it right to go to the family of the person I killed to say sorry.
Do churches have any responsibilities in these matters? Yes, because the land and wealth of churches came from land stolen from the indigenous people of Australia. The prosperity of our churches has come from the proceeds of crime.
Saying sorry is the least we should do.
Others coveted, stole and killed, and we still benefit from their actions. Even if we did not do the original actions, many of us complied with the policy of assimilation, which, even if well-intentioned, was so destructive to the social structures of indigenous communities, as well as causing immense personal suffering. If I have hurt someone, it is not enough to be sorry, not even enough to repent. I must also recompense the person, or else my repentance is shown to be a sham. The idea of recompense is not popular today, but it is essential.
We European Australians often claim that one of the strengths of the Australian character is caring for the underdog. That claim is rank and blatant hypocrisy. We do not act with justice, let alone care.
What might recompense require of us who arrived since 1788?
We would recognise that recompense is based on our duty, not the needs of indigenous people, and that no recompense could ever be satisfactory because what was done was so vile, so immense, so universal, so pervasive, so destructive, so devastating, and so irreparable.
We would ask the indigenous people if they wanted those of us who have arrived since 1788 to leave, or to provide an equivalent recompense. Leaving would be a drastic and complicated action, but it has happened in India, Africa, and Indonesia in the past 60 years.
If we do not leave, then we would need to ask each of the indigenous peoples of this land what kind of recompense would be appropriate for them. This would be an extremely complicated and extensive task, but must be done.
We would need to be prepared to give costly recompense, lest it trivialise what has happened. We would then need to adopt a national recompense policy, in the form of a treaty, implemented locally, according to the wishes of each indigenous tribe.
We could also implement voluntary recompense by churches in a coordinated way. Christian churches should lead the way in this, for churches, too, have benefited from the land they use, and from income from those who have usurped the land.
It would be difficult to agree to do this, complicated to negotiate, and costly and demanding to deliver.
The idea of recompense is not alien to our society. James Hardie had to recompense workers harmed by asbestos. There is widespread feeling this was right. If this recompense is right, then it is also right to offer recompense to the indigenous people of Australia.
We have wronged our neighbours. It is now time to pay our debts, to confess our sins, to give the recompense that we owe.
Peter Adam is principal of Ridley College, an Anglican theological college in Victoria. This is an edited extract from a lecture delivered on Monday.
Australia, the Aborigines, and restitution
Barney Zwartz | www.theage.com.au | August 13, 2009
Such an impossible task may help us focus on real ways to make amends.
Anglican theologian Peter Adam thinks that unless Australia's indigenous people give us belated permission, everybody whose forebears came after 1788 should decamp and return the land to its first inhabitants.
In a public lecture on Monday, he said that if the non-indigenous stayed they should have to provide whatever recompense the indigenous thought appropriate for the genocide and theft they have suffered.
Impossible! Absurd! Surely this is mere posturing? Neil Mitchell on radio station 3AW certainly thought so. He gave a 60-second tirade against Adam, apparently based on just the short Age report, saying it was the reason why no one should ever step inside a church again. And he thought Adam was melodramatic.
But there's method in Adam's madness. First, the Reverend Dr Peter Adam, principal of Ridley College, is a sober and sensible man, a conservative evangelical Christian, who thinks carefully about what he says. He knows very well how impractical and impossible it is for 21 million people to uproot themselves.
Probably Aborigines would not want us to - it's hardly realistic for them to revert to a pre-colonial hunter-gatherer life. And how far back do you go? For the English would it be ''go home Normans''? Or Vikings? Or Saxons?
And who qualifies as an Aborigine? A Maori leader in New Zealand once said being Maori was a state of mind. ''Beethoven was a Maori,'' she said. If being Aboriginal was a state of mind that brought instant reward, large numbers of Australians might self-identify.
But Adam wants to make two points. First is the gravity of what the indigenous people suffered. However impractical, mass emigration would be the moral response because ''what was done was so vile, so immense, so universal, so pervasive, so destructive, so devastating and so irreparable''.
The Christian concepts of repentance and restitution or recompense are profoundly radical. Adam's idea is in keeping with the biblical concepts, even if these are honoured more in the breach than the observance now that Christianity is so institutionalised.
So it's not merely rhetorical, however impractical. After all, the colonial powers returned India, Africa and Indonesia to their inhabitants.
The second point, the one that should gain traction, is that Australians need to grapple seriously with the idea of recompense - real recompense - perhaps for the first time. He wants to dispel the convenient fancy articulated by a former prime minister that we are not responsible for our forebears' actions and owe no apology. Adam said: ''It is right to say 'sorry'. For they were serious crimes and sins. They included the theft of land, which was not only the theft of livelihood but also the theft of home, identity and religion. They included murder and manslaughter, the destruction of social structures and culture, the breaking up of families, the desecration of the dead and genocide, with no legitimate justification.''
Nor are the churches exempt: their prosperity, he charged, ''has come from the proceeds of crime''.
He wants to rekindle the debate, move it beyond the relatively restricted arguments about apologies and native title. Of course, the broader Australian community has a vested interest in averting our eyes and wringing our hands over Aboriginal suffering. After all, we mean well but it's so intractable. Adam's point is, that won't do - we must go much deeper and it starts with the indigenous telling us what they need. We need fresh eyes and an honest appreciation before we can grasp the gravity and really make amends.
And if Adam's words are confrontational, that is thoroughly consonant with the ancient Hebrew device of hyperbole, found throughout the Bible. For example, when Jesus said ''And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee'', what he meant was take the notion of sin seriously; it matters what you do.
And that, surely, is Adam's point: it matters what we do. It matters to indigenous Australians, it matters to the rest of us, and - for the religious among us - it matters to God.
Barney Zwartz is religion editor.
'The Age' Comments on Dr Peter Adams Lecture
www.theage.com.au | August 14, 2009'