Written by Emma Clark
“Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s work together for a shared future.”
This is the theme for NAIDOC Week 2019, which opens with an ecumenical service at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Newcastle West, at 1.30pm on July 7.
NAIDOC stands for the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, and found its beginnings in the Day of Mourning march in 1938. Originally NAIDOC was observed on the Sunday before Australia Day.
In the 1950s, the date was moved to July in order to capture the importance of celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Today, NAIDOC is a celebration of the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and is hosted by local communities throughout Australia
Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s work together for a shared future. There is an ongoing effort in Newcastle to ensure we come together in an ecumenical spirit of shared listening.
The NAIDOC service is held on the first Sunday of NAIDOC week – the Anglican and Catholic cathedrals host it on an alternating basis. The arrangements for the service are co-ordinated and organised by a working party drawn from many denominations and previously has included interfaith representatives. The liturgy and program itself have been developed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives.
Over the past 40 years, local Newcastle churches have supported and worked together to promote and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. In September 1980, when the Newcastle Aboriginal Support Group was first formed, its founding members included representatives from several churches. This led to the development of ongoing relationships between churches and community groups.
In 1981, when the possibility of a treaty was discussed, the local churches provided free meeting space for the ongoing conversations. It was also in September of 1981 that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples flag was first flown from the bell tower of Christ Church Cathedral Newcastle.
In July 1997, George Carey, the then archbishop of Canterbury (the symbolic leader of the global Anglican Communion) visited Newcastle and participated in a statement of confession and reconciliation to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This service of apology was held in response to the release of the Bringing Them Home report. It was led by Gloria Schipp, the first Aboriginal woman to be ordained in Australia, and included local representatives from 11 Christian denominations.
A few years later during a summer school on Aboriginal spirituality, a healing service was organised and hosted in conjunction with Saint John’s College, Morpeth, the theological school attached to Newcastle Anglican diocese. This too was an ecumenical event that included representatives from many denominations. At the heart of this ceremony was a cross, painted by Mini Heath, a Worimi woman. Mini Heath was the NAIDOC Inaugural NSW Aboriginal Artist of the Year in 1983. This cross now stands in a courtyard at the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic diocesan offices.
There are many more moments such as these throughout our history, and many more to come, as we work together for a shared future.
Emma Clark is the Family and Youth Ministry Assistant at MICA Ministries in Mayfield, and a member of the 2019 NAIDOC Week working party.