From the Director
During the course of the next month, schools and colleges of the Archdiocese take time to celebrate NAIDOC Week. NAIDOC stands for the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee and its origins can be traced to the emergence of Aboriginal groups in the 1920s. NAIDOC Week seeks to increase awareness in the wider community and our schools of the status and treatment of Indigenous Australians. It is a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) cultures and an opportunity to recognise the contributions of Indigenous Australians in various fields.
In the late 1970s an Aboriginal deacon, Boniface Perdjert, composed a prayer reflection which commenced as follows: “God did not begin to take an interest in people with the Incarnation of His Son, nor with Abraham. My people existed here in Australia thousands of years before Abraham. In all that time God was with my people. He worked through their culture.”
Evidence supports the claim that Aborigines have been in Australia for at least 40,000 years, from 38,000 B.C. Abraham dates from about 1800 B.C. and Moses from about 1400 B.C. Only Africa has older physical evidence of habitation by modern humans.
Aboriginal people lived throughout Australia and spoke about 250 languages and 700 dialects. They lived in small bands which varied in size depending on climate and available resources. Studies suggest that in the northern tropical areas bands averaged 40-50 people; in the central desert regions 10-20 people; and in the temperate southern regions 40-80 people. Most of the population, which numbered about 750,000 people, lived in the more fertile regions much the same as we do today.
“According to the beliefs of many Aboriginal groups, people have been in Australia since the beginning – the Dreaming. During this period ancestral spirits came up out of the earth and down from the sky to walk on the land. They shaped its rocks, rivers, mountains, forests and deserts. They also created all the people, animals and plants that were to live in the country and laid down the patterns their lives were to follow. The Spirit Ancestors gave Aboriginal People their laws, customs and codes of conduct and are the source of the songs, dances, designs and rituals that are the basis of Aboriginal religious expression.” – Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
NAIDOC Week celebrates the survival of Indigenous culture and the contribution of Indigenous people and their culture to Australia. However, survival was not always guaranteed. European colonisation of Australia, which began in 1788 had a huge impact on Indigenous Australians. The combination of introduced diseases – chickenpox, smallpox, influenza and measles - the loss of land and direct violence, reduced the Aboriginal population by an estimated 85% between 1788 and 1900. By the 1870s all the fertile land of Australia had been taken over by Europeans and the remnants of the Aboriginal communities were forced to live on the fringes of the European communities.
According to the European viewpoint, Aboriginal people may have been on the land first but they did not own it because they did not use the land or show ownership in the same way as Europeans did. Europeans felt free to settle anywhere in Australia ignoring Aboriginal people and denying them the right to live on the land they had occupied for thousands of years. In fact, Europeans declared the land ‘Terra Nullius’ – ‘Land belonging to no one.’ Because European Settlement in Australia has been only for a little over 200 years, we tend to have little sense of history. If Europeans had been here for 40,000 years, we might well want to celebrate the survival of our culture as being truly remarkable even when compared to other cultures anywhere in the world.
In NAIDOC Week it is also important to recognise and celebrate the work in Aboriginal education being done throughout Catholic education, both through those in our schools and in our TCEO supporting the work of schools.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enrolments in Tasmania are growing faster than the national average. In part this growth has been attributed to the growing pride in heritage in Tasmanian Aboriginals supported by the teaching of the true history of Aboriginal people. As such, more ATSI families are willing to identify. In 2015 our ATSI enrolments have reached 900 and increase of nearly 50 from last year.
Yours in Hope
Director of Catholic Education