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Adelaide Indigenous and non-indigenous
Catholic Church and community leaders
are echoing a national consensus to correct
the historical exclusion of Indigenous
Australians from the Constitution as a
much-anticipated parliamentary report was
released last month.
“Aboriginal people are not recognised in
the Constitution; not mentioned in it, and
I think that is an unfair and unjust way
of operating our country,” said Kaurna/
Narungga elder Dr Alitya Rigney. Dr Rigney
is chairwoman of the Sisters of St Joseph
She made the comments as Reconciliation
Week wrapped up on June 3 and as the
Joint Select Committee on Constitutional
Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Peoples tabled its final report on
It proposed three options for constitutional
reform and recommendations including
the repeal of outdated race clauses and
that a referendum be held when it has the
greatest chance of success.
Committee chairman Western Australian
Liberal MP Senator Ken Wyatt said: “The
committee acknowledges that recognition
in the Constitution will not end racism in
Australia, nor will it be a solution to the
serious problems faced by Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples. However,
constitutional recognition will be a vital
step towards reconciliation.”
Adelaide diocesan Aboriginal Catholic
Advisory Council chairman John
Lochowiak said constitutional recognition
was essential for greater national respect of
Indigenous people, culture and language.
“However, changing the nation’s rulebook
is the first step to a process of changing
attitudes and minds towards the historical,
current and future value of Indigenous
people in Australia,” said Mr Lochowiak,
also deputy chairperson of the National
Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Catholic
Adelaide human rights lawyer Stephen
Kenny said: “In light of the fact that the
first people in North America had their
native title rights recognised over 150
years ago, whilst settlers in Australia were
claiming ‘terra nullius’, this is the least we
“Given the death and disadvantage that
colonisation has visited upon them, it is
not at all unreasonable to suggest that the
Australian Constitution should be rewritten
to acknowledge their land ownership
and provide them with a system of native
title rights.” Mr Kenny has represented
Indigenous men, women and communities
across Australia in various native title
Darwin Bishop Eugene Hurley, chairman
of the Bishops Commission for relations
with Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders,
said: “It must be a unanimous decision and
cannot be a source of division.”
NATSICC chairwoman Thelma Parker
said constitutional reform was needed
“for Australian people to be spiritually
connected so that we can heal and move
Various polls indicate a Yes Vote for
constitutional recognition of Indigenous
Australians ranges from 63 to 75 percent.
Time to recognise
our first people
By Rebecca DiGirolamo
Adelaide resident Peter Gibson, a child
from the Stolen Generation, says this
month’s assembly of more than 300
Catholic Indigenous Australians in Darwin
is a welcome chance for him to reconnect
to faith and culture.
“When I first went to the assembly it was a
real eye opener,” says Peter, a parishioner
at the Aboriginal Community’s Otherway
Centre in Stepney.
Peter has attended five assemblies
organised every three years by the National
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Catholic Council (NATSICC).
He will be among a group of 20 people
from South Australia attending this year’s
assembly from July 2 to 6.
“It is an eye opener to witness how many
people come from all over Australia to
this conference and meeting some of the
Catholic Bishops is a real highlight,” says
Peter, 56. “The spiritual togetherness with
the other delegates I always find fantastic,”
he says. “What we can come away with
from these conferences is a real belief.”
Peter and his twin brother Paul were
removed from their mother, a Kokatha
woman (from northern South Australia),
at two months old. “That was the last
time Mum would have seen us before we
were 20, when we first caught up with her
She died three years after reuniting with
Peter, one of 12 children.
Peter received the sacraments as a child
while living with his second foster family –
devout Catholics from Gawler. He returned
to the Church as an adult at the Otherway
Centre, then in Pirie St.
Much of his past has only been pieced
together from government records over
the past few years. Three years ago he
discovered he was a brother to a third set
of twins who died before he met them.
His own twin brother died from heart failure
16 years ago. He keeps in regular contact
with his five remaining siblings.
Peter says his faith has given him
emotional strength through tough times
and he was grateful for the support of the
Otherway Centre. “It’s helped me to grow
and keep me alive,” he says.
Also travelling from Adelaide to the Darwin
assembly are husband and wife Richard
and Colleen Harney. This will be Colleen’s
sixth NATSICC assembly and Richard’s
first. The pair has been attending Mass at
the Otherway Centre since moving from
Victoria four years ago.
Colleen, a Queensland Murri woman,
says she was keen to catch up with family
and friends. “When I hear Murri Catholics
singing I get quite emotional because
I moved to Victoria when I was three
years old,” she says. “I can hear my mum
coming through their voices.”
Aboriginal Catholic Advisory Council
chairman John Lochowiak said Aboriginal
people were very passionate about their
faith and the assembly gave them a
chance to connect and work together on
important issues affecting the community.
Mr Lochowiak will speak at a cross-cultural
workshop at the assembly.
Keynote addresses will be made by
Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann AM,
Charlie King OAM and Vicki Clarke.
Recently uncovered footage of the ground
breaking 1973 Australian Aboriginal
Mass at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in
Melbourne will be viewed at the assembly
with discussion also including liturgical
inculturation, stories of culture in the
Church and a presentation from youth on
the future of the Church.
Darwin assembly brings ‘spiritual togetherness’
By Rebecca DiGirolamo
man Peter Gibson at the
St Martin de Porres Chapel
in Stepney last month.
BUILDING BRIDGES: SAC student Aimee Brett and Pipalyatjara Anangu School
student Richard connecting two cultures earlier this year in the APY Lands.
Blackfriars Priory School students also spent time with an Indigenous community
during Reconciliation Week.
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