Saint Hilda’s acknowledgment of Noongar people by Hannah McGlade and Caroline Tan 31 March 2014
oongar Elders Mingli Wanjurri and Ben Taylor are long time friends and social justice activists. In 2001 they were also plaintiffs in a case, Wanjurri v Southern Cross Broadcasting (Aus) Ltd  HREOCA 2 (7 May 2001)
concerning s.18C of the Race Discrimination Act (1975) that prohibits race vilification, laws that are now being opposed by the Attorney General as an impediment to ‘free speech.’ This case concerned the 6PR radio station that broadcasted comments that were highly offensive and denigrating of Aboriginal people and culture, including denigration of the Waugyl
or Rainbow serpent. The radio station was ordered by the Federal Court to compensate the plaintiffs and ensure that the radio staff are, in future, fully aware of the prohibition of race vilification. Uncle Ben Taylor has lived through legislation that permitted the removal of Aboriginal children from their families and restricted Aboriginal citizenship rights, including the right to be present
Noongar Elders Ben Taylor and Mingli Wanjurri at the St Hilda’s ceremony. Image supplied
in the city of Perth after the 6pm curfew imposed on the ‘natives’. At a moving ceremony on Sunday he was invited by the Anglican Church St Hilda’s church to unveil a memorial in recognition of Noongar people and country. In place of a sermon, Tom Little, who played beautiful didgeridoo for the unveiling of the memorial, spent time talking with the congregation about Noongar people, culture and history. Some people say that words cannot hurt us, but Uncle Ben Taylor, who lived through an era when words, laws and actions did indeed hurt Noongar people, thinks differently about this. In his time and living memory, racist words and denigration did indeed result in a great deal of hurt and discrimination towards Aboriginal
people. So the question is why would our Attorney General and Prime Minister consider it acceptable for Australian to engage in racial bigotry. Apparently it’s all a matter of ‘Free speech’. However, freedom of speech is already protected by the legislation and the wide exceptions in the Act that effectively permit race vilification. These laws have been examined by Melbourne academic Anna Chapman who studied Aboriginal cases from the introduction of the Act in 1995 until 2003. According to Chapman ‘Non-Indigenous narratives are prioritised over Indigenous perspectives at several key points in the legislation and adjudicative processes, and it is this privileging that reifies dominant racial values and images’. It is difficult to see how the race
vilification prohibition of s.18C has been regarded as a threat to free speech in view of the practice of the legislation that gives, not surprisingly, priority of nonIndigenous perspectives within our ‘human rights’ framework. The St Hilda’s church recognition of Noongar people was a beautiful and moving event, attended by many including the federal MP Alannah McTiernan. It was striking though, the incongruence of a national political debate that seeks to unwind the International Convention on the Elimination of Race Discrimination (ICERD), and the local efforts of people and churches that reject and wish to heal from the past history of Aboriginal dispossession and racial abuse.
The service prayer was especially reflective and written by Reverend Dr. Elizabeth Smith.
Faithful God, lead us to a future with more justice and kindness than the past. Heal the damage done, in ignorance and by intention, to the First Peoples of this land, who have survived dispossession, imprisonment and killing, whose languages and cultures were despised and rejected, whose rights were denied and whose families were devastated. God of grace, hear our prayer. Teach new habits of honour and care for the First Peoples of this land, with justice in health and education, with dignity in employment and housing. God of grace, hear our prayer. Write new words of clarity and truth
in the constitution of this nation, recognising the unique place of Australia’s First Peoples and their languages and cultures. God of grace, hear our prayer. Stir up new desire and energy to make the difficult changes of attitude and behaviour in churches and communities, schools and workplaces, until all the oppressed go free. God of grace, hear our prayer. Use this place of prayer and these people of faith to right wrongs, lift burdens, restore hope and bring life, as a sign of your justice and your power to heal, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
National NAIDOC Poster Competition and nominations for the National NAIDOC Awards are now open. Forms are available online at www.naidoc.org.au or at your nearest Indigenous Coordination Centre. Poster competition entries close Friday 28 March. Award nominations close Wednesday 23 April.