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"Dreaming of the resurrection: a reconciliation story", Sydney, Thursday, 12 November 1998: address on the occasion of the launch of the book.



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ADDRESS BY SIR WILLIAM DEANE

GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA

ON THE OCCASION OF THE LAUNCH OF THE BOOK

“DREAMING OF THE RESURRECTION - A RECONCILIATION STORY”

SYDNEY

THURSDAY, 12 NOVEMBER 1998

In July of last year, I was privileged to launch the Mary MacKillop Foundation for the Sisters of St Joseph. In summary, the Foundation exists to help the Josephite Order founded by that great Australian woman whose name the Foundation bears, to continue the mission of outreach to the disadvantaged and those in need of education and other help.

At its launch, three major initial projects which the Foundation planned to pursue were identified. The first of them is one which is close to my own heart. It is to help further the work of the Sisters of St Joseph for Australia’s indigenous people.

In referring to that initial project, I made the following comments:

“In Helen’s and my travels and in our contacts with Aboriginal communities and people, we have heard nothing but praise for the work of the Sisters of St Joseph for Australia’s indigenous people ... particularly in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. Recently, at the Reconciliation Convention in Melbourne, Helen

gently pointed out that the place of women in the crusade for true reconciliation is absolutely vital and that non-indigenous and indigenous women, through communication, co-operation and joint work and influence, must show the way if we are to achieve the objective of true reconciliation by the time we enter our second century as a nation. With adequate funding, I have no doubt that the Sisters of St Joseph will continue in the forefront of that crusade and that the Mary Mackillop Foundation, which those of us who are gathered here today are establishing, will make a most significant contribution to the achievement of that objective. If it does that, it will make an invaluable contribution to our national identity, decency, self­ respect and well being.

At this stage, I must divert to add a word of personal explanation. Some time ago, I made a firm decision that I would not launch any more books. The main reasons for that decision was that a very large number of invitations to launch books had been received and I had found that I simply did not have the spare time to do justice to them. I did, however, reserve the possibility that I would make an occasional exception if the circumstances seemed compelling.

When I was asked by the Sisters to launch “Dreaming o f the Resurrection ” I had no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that the circumstances were quite compelling. In part, the explanation of my reaching that conclusion may well be the one which I referred to when launching the Mary MacKillop Foundation in July of last year, namely that any male who has been educated by Nuns finds it almost impossible to say no to a request by an Order of Sisters. The real reason

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for my regarding the circumstances as compelling was, however, that I regard the work of the \ Sisters of St Joseph for the indigenous people of our country as being of compelling importance.

It was only some time after I had agreed to launch it, that I first held in my hands a copy of David Burke’s book. I set out to do the compulsory book launcher’s browse. I quickly became entranced. I realised that the main reason which should have led me to agree to launch the book was one of which I had been until then unaware. That reason was that, notwithstanding its shortness - some 80 pages in all of which a number are introductory or serve the purpose of dividers - the book is an absolutely outstanding achievement.

For one thing, the book provides an extraordinarily enlightening insight as it compares and contrasts indigenous and non-indigenous art focused upon the resurrection. Different people will discern different messages and leam different lessons from the comparison and contrast. At first glance, one might gain the impression of an almost childlike simplicity in the spiritual perceptions underlying the Aboriginal art. But then one is stmck by the deep complexity of a painting such as “Jesus Risen” by Teddy Jabangayi Dixon on page 18 of the book or Patricia Marrfurra’s “Easter” on page 27. The plain fact is that the more one examines and thinks about the paintings, the more obvious it becomes that the perceptions underlying the indigenous art are not so much to be characterised in terms of childlike simplicity but in terms of being unerringly concerned with what is essential.

And that leads me to what is for me perhaps the main lesson of this book. It is the identification of what truly are the essentials. As I examined the indigenous paintings and compared them with the non-indigenous ones, my constant thought was that the essentials are those of a universal Christian faith which is largely unconscious of the differences of dogma and practice which constitute the divisions within the universal Christian church. Indeed, it is difficult to escape the impression that, putting to one side the transcending importance of the real presence for those of us who believe in it, those differences of dogma and practice should sound somewhat bizarre in the ears of the deeply religious indigenous artists whose works are produced in this book.

Another thing that struck me as I examined the indigenous paintings and drawings was the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in indigenous Christianity. That had struck me before on each occasion when I have been privileged to participate in indigenous Christian services. It is not surprising when one thinks of the role played by the dreaming in indigenous thought, culture and belief. Up until recent times, the Holy Spirit has played only a largely incidental role in my own religion. Personal contact with indigenous Christianity is educating me about the fundamental importance of the “Holy Spirit in - or sometimes ‘o f - our Land”. And, when one understands the critical importance of fire and water in the Aboriginal dreamings and in indigenous life, how could it be otherwise? In that regard, let me simply direct attention to the painting of Pentecost by the

late Peter Jabangayi Tchooga on page 70 of this wonderful book.

There are many other comments I would like to make about “Dreaming o f the Resurrection I have, however, already gone too long and will confine myself to some brief remarks on the subject of reconciliation. For the book is correctly described as “A Reconciliation Story" on its cover and I have no doubt that it is because it is an instrument of true reconciliation that it is a project of the Mary MacKillop Foundation.,

As I think most of you know, I have, since I became Governor-General, constantly sought to stress the importance of reconciliation between the indigenous peoples and the nation of which they form such an important part. Indeed, my views in that regard appear in an extract from my Australia Day message this year which is reproduced on page 5 of “Dreaming o f the Resurrection ”.

We will, of course, not achieve true reconciliation until we are further advanced towards addressing the appalling problems of material disadvantage which oppress Australia’s indigenous peoples. But it is also of critical importance that we address the problems of the spirit as well. In particular, the problems of coping with what has been lost and, of course, the problems of lack of self-esteem.

And we will only achieve true reconciliation if we learn how to communicate - not loudly, abrasively and divisively but quietly, convincingly and inclusively.

In its own way, “Dreaming o f the Resurrection " in itself and of itself makes a significant contribution towards addressing one aspect of the problems of the spirit and of self-esteem. It brings home, through a comparison with outstanding non-indigenous religious art, the depth and splendour of indigenous artistic abilities and spiritual perceptions. It does it in a way which is quiet in its expression but spectacular in its result. To at least this non-Aboriginal reader, the book is a cause of soaring pride in the scope, the skill and the worth of our indigenous art.

"Dreaming o f the Resurrection" also demonstrates the correctness of my wife, Helen’s, message to the Reconciliation Convention in May 1997 about how important to reconciliation it is that indigenous and non-indigenous women and men learn to communicate by exchanging stories and experiences. Indeed, “Dreaming o f the Resurrection" is reconciliation in practice as it compares, contrasts and reconciles indigenous and non-indigenous materia! and spiritual experience as depicted through art.

And, finally, “Dreaming o f the Resurrection ” teaches reconciliation in the overall story it narrates. In that regard, let me refer specifically to the story of the “Women at Mistake Creek” which is told at pages 33 and 35 of the book. It matters not whether the particular story is accurate in its details. Its elements have undoubtedly occurred in many different parts of our nation during the comparatively short time since we Europeans first came here. It is a story of the slaughter of Aborigines. And of a perceived reason for the slaughter that was as mistaken in fact as it was utterly unjustifiable in principle. And it is a story of forgiveness which is explained by an Elder of the Kiji people: “if we do not forgive then ... the evil spirit will enter us”.

There is a monument, pictured on page 33 of the book, at the foot of an old boab tree beside the ordinarily dry bed of Mistake Creek. It bears the inscription: “In memory of our ancestors who were shot and burnt here”. On All Souls Day each year the Kiji people gather there to pray to their and our Christian God. One day, Helen and I hope to have the privilege of joining with them.

It only remains for me to launch this book. I unreservedly congratulate David Burke and all who have helped him in its preparation. I also congratulate all those Artists, indigenous and non-indigenous, whose work is reproduced. And all those associated with the book’s actual production, including Ken Gilroy for its design and Inprint Pty Limited for its printing and of course the Mary MacKillop Foundation and all associated with it for their support of David Burke’s work and the publication of his book. I have no doubt that Mother Mary of the Cross would approve.