August 3, 2016
Archbishop Philip Freier, head of the Anglican Church in Australia, reflects on his visit to St Mary’s Hostel in Alice Springs and on the Church’s history with the Stolen Generations.
01 Aug 2016
St Mary’s Hostel in Alice Springs, like many institutions conducted by Europeans for Indigenous people, has a chequered history. It is a place where the race politics of Australia and particularly Central Australia has been lived out in the lives of several generations of Aboriginal people.
Founded by Ken Leslie, rector of Alice Springs (later chaplain at Timbertop, then Bishop of Bathurst), from high motives, it acted from a concern that children with dual Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal heritage were missing opportunities for education. Children were sent by their parents from cattle stations and towns all around the Northern Territory to live at St Mary’s and attend the local government school.
But, like many similar church ventures, it was poorly resourced and could not maintain its early success. It was appropriated by the post-war Government to help its policy of wrongfully removing children from their families.
Last month I took part in the hostel’s 70th anniversary, and it was clear that the Stolen Generations experience was still raw for many who attended. I took the opportunity to reiterate the statement of the Synod of the Diocese of the Northern Territory in 1997: “This Synod recognises the pain and suffering endured by Aboriginal people forcibly removed from their families and apologises for any of our Church policies and actions that have ever contributed, in any way, to that hurt.”
I was able to speak as Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia owning the responsibility of the Church for all of our history, the true history, in both its positive and negative impacts. It is in this way, by truth telling, that we learn together and can find ways of celebrating the good and continuing to right the harm of the wrong. St John’s Gospel is very clear about the liberating power of truth – in fact John 8.32 “The truth will set you free”, is the motto of the Anglican Communion.
I was impressed by the courage of the former residents who have a special bond as well as the dedication of former staff members who have continued to live in Alice Springs.
Our Christian faith acknowledges that, in life, the good and the bad are often mixed together. Our faith calls us to look to a future where the pain of this life is gathered into the sufferings of Christ and transformed through his resurrection. Healing and wholeness await us in the future and breaks in on our present, as we accompany our blessed Saviour through life as his disciples.
On the way to that future, we have the blessing of knowing the encouragement of the good and the beautiful as signs of that future.