Bruce Pascoe, Young Dark Emu:
A truer history, Broome WA: Magabala Books 2019.
Hardcover 80 pages.
Reviewed by Ted Witham
As kids, my brother and I used to go through phases of collecting Aboriginal grindstones on our farm. These artefacts were ironstone. They weighed perhaps a kilogram and fitted into the palm of an adult hand. A smooth area had been sculpted out of the top. Our Dad told us to look for the other part of the machine, a smaller smooth stone. It was evident that seeds or berries were placed in the scooped-out area and the second stone used to grind.
There were two inferences we didn’t make as kids. The first was that there is no ironstone near Tambellup. The nearest deposits are in the Mid-West 800 kilometres north. The existence of the grindstones proved there was an active system of trade around the State.
The second inference was that the people who used this device must then have gone on to mix the milled seeds with water and cook them. In Young Dark Emu Bruce Pascoe comments that, if this happened 65,000 years ago, this is the earliest known invention of bread, pre-dating Ancient Egypt by an astonishing 13,000 years. (p. 16)
The basic thesis of Young Dark Emu is twofold: one is that pre-contact Aboriginal culture included sophisticated farming and settled village life, and two that the early ‘explorers’ saw these facts – huge fields under yam cultivation, well-constructed huts that could accommodate 40 people easily – and wrote about them in their journals. By the 1880s the settlers had both deliberately and inadvertently destroyed all this evidence. For example, the hard cloven feet of sheep compacted the soil so that it became too hard to plant yams or seeds.
Once physical evidence had disappeared, Europeans failed to take notice of the eye-witness accounts of ‘explorers’, and soon came to forget the scale of the civilisation they had supplanted.
Young Dark Emu is a
version of Bruce Pascoe’s book for older readers, Dark Emu. Young Dark Emu would
be suitable for children upwards of 10 years old. Both books are a plea to
learn from the land use and fire regimes that Indigenous people developed over
80,000 years (or more) of occupation of this continent. They adapted their
crops aquaculture and food storage to the soils and climate of this place.
takes its name from the Emu constellation. Traditional Aborigines named constellations
not for the patterns made by bright stars, as Europeans did, but by the
patterns in the dark spaces between them: a unique way of seeing.
Young Dark Emu invites
readers to many levels of diverse ways of seeing. All Australians should read
it or Dark Emu.
As a writer and language teacher, I know the power of
language. We express ourselves in words and sentences. With language we
persuade others to see things the way we do. The language of others influences
the way we see the world.
Think of the differences between Ayers Rock and Uluru: the former celebrating the Chief Secretary of SA at the time explorer William Gosse sighted the rock in 1873; the latter marking the complex relationship the Anangu have formed with Uluru-Kata Tjuta over tens of thousands of years.
The English names in our country reflect the dispossession of the land by its Second Peoples. Ayers Rock, backed up by the colonists’ military power, rendered Uluru invisible. This has been repeated time and again across Australia. The obliteration of Aboriginal names may not have been a deliberate policy, but it was part of the large-scale destruction of Indigenous culture by the incomers.
We should rejoice that, at times, the settlers listened to the locals and used their name for the place. (According to Professor Leonard Collard, about half of south-western Australia’s placenames are Noongar.)
Toolbrunup, the name of the lake on our family farm and of the mountain on the horizon, is` close to the original. It means ‘the place which has water when all else is dry’, which was true until 20 years ago. Sadly changing land use has turned the lake into a place which is perpetually dry, but the name still reflects the memory of the Koreng people who gathered there year after year at the end of the hot season well into the European period.
For this is the power of Aboriginal placenames: they record
a staggeringly long bond between people and land. They are memory; they are the
keepers of value; they are part of the record of the most ancient continuous
culture in the world. It is arrogant to continue to give places new European
names if they are already named.
Of course, it is appropriate that the built environment
should be named both for Aboriginal and wejulah
reasons. A new school can be called the Bob Hawke College, but another one
could be named the Wagyl Kaip College after the inland region of Wardandi
country. Above the Forrest Highway could be the Mokine Overpass. Our history
now, for better or for worse, is a joint story.
Local governments around Australia are developing commendable policies of dual naming, reviving the hidden Aboriginal name for places alongside the European name. Some have also adopted the principle of first using the Aboriginal placename (with appropriate permission from local elders).
The theme for National Reconciliation Week 2019 is ‘Grounded
in Truth: Walk Together with Courage’. What better place to start finding the
truth is in the literal ground, the
land beneath our feet? Sensitivity to placenames will speed this recovery of
truth and memory and help wejulah to
absorb more of Indigenous culture and reality and walk together with courage
into the future.
Israel Folau has been sacked. Rugby Australia could have handled the situation differently. But in the end, it was Folau’s own doing, and he knew it, so cannot escape responsibility. To his credit, it appears that he accepts his punishment.
Folau knew how his post would be heard. He claims it was
written in love: what he posted was
bound to be heard as the opposite.
I think I have some credibility to comment on this: for four years I was the CEO of an inter-denominational Christian agency. Our main ministry was in a secular context. I learned that I was constrained in what I could say. Very constrained. But paradoxically, I learned that I could say anything at all – if I said it the right way.
Effective communication requires you to think yourself into
the shoes of the audience. It requires understanding their context, and,
specifically, to communicate Christian truth, you must appreciate their
beliefs: what they believe and how they express it.
Israel Folau’s post was based on I Corinthians 6:9-10. He
added to it the command to ‘Repent’ and ‘Jesus saves.’ He invokes God’s mercy
for repentant sinners, a central Christian teaching. However, I Cor. 6:9-10 was
not written for non-believers: it was written for ‘brothers and sisters’. What
is more, it was written for believers of the 1st Century. Its language
does not cut through in the 21st Century; or it cuts through in the
Folau’s Instagram followers include non-believers. If he was genuinely warning sinners to repent, then he should have known that they would not hear his message that way. He had already amended I Cor. 6:9-10 to include mercy for the repentant: he could have ditched “hell” and crafted a sermon to be heard!
I have a childhood memory
of Grandad kneeling in his striped flannel pyjamas at his bedside saying his
prayers. Those were the days when the reflexive response of a congregation to
the liturgical command “Let us pray” was to instantly fall to its knees.
Like the American tourist
in London overawed by the Tower and the Beefeaters, we didn’t think about it. When
the tourist heard one uniformed Tower guard call to another, “Neil! Neil!”, he responded
instantly as in church and fell to his knees.
In his diminished height
in the kneeling position, in every folded part of his body, Grandad was
demonstrating his belief that he was in the presence of One far greater than
himself. To bend before such a One is the only way to dare to enter into
conversation with the Eternal One.
The Usher sings in
Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury, “Silence
in Court, and all attention lend. Behold
your Judge! In due submission bend!”
More telling for us Christians is the Biblical example. The Hebrew word “shachah” means “to bow down” and implies kneeling and touching the ground with the forehead. Abraham, Moses and many others “bow down” at least 172 times. In the New Testament, the Greek word for “I bow down” is “proskuneo”. It means literally, “I kiss, like a dog licking its master’s hand”, and occurs 60 times in the New Testament. The people of God expect to bow down, to show loving submission to their God.
We, as a church, have
made considered decisions over the past 30 years to abolish kneeling. We have decided
to stand as the redeemed people of Christ to hear the Words of Institution
during the Eucharist. In many churches, altar rails have been removed to open
the space and to encourage people to receive communion standing. These
decisions are now inscribed as rubrics in our modern Prayer Books.
What we do in church and
in ritual prayers at home is drill or repetitive training. And in those days when
we knelt, we were training our bodies, minds and souls to enter the presence of
God with adoration, awe and humility.
By standing where we used to kneel, we now train ourselves to stand upright, taking on the posture of people who are not bound and folded up in sin but forgiven and free. I think these changes are a nett gain to us.
What we do in church changes and evolves to meet the needs of today’s Christians. But we have lost much. We must be a people who can bend in the presence of the Almighty. However earnestly I may plead, I doubt habitual kneeling will be restored to general liturgical practice. In any case, I can no longer physically kneel, and as the church ages, there will be many like me.
But I suggest four
changes to church we can make:
be aware of kneeling as a proper liturgical posture, and to ask ourselves when
kneeling is appropriate.
kneel before and after Communion and before and after the service to mark those
times of prayer.
choose to kneel on occasion to receive Holy Communion to express humility.
leaders to never say, “Sit for the prayers”, but allow people to kneel by instructing,
“Kneel or sit for the prayers as you are comfortable”.
And at home review our posture for our own individual praying. Should we always be relaxed and comfortable in an armchair? Are there times when kneeling is the best posture, like my Grandad at the bedside before we commend ourselves to God’s keeping while we sleep?
Under $10 online. $6.95 from Christ’s Church, Anglican Parish of Mandurah. Digital version at Exponential (free)
Frost, Surprise the World: the five
habits of missional people, Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2016.
Insanity, they say, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We Christians at the beginning of the 21st Century should recognise that kind of insanity: if we expect our usual patterns of worship, however contemporary and relevant, to continue to draw people into Christ, then we shall continue to be disappointed by the Church.
There is a place for ministry to Baby Boomers using traditional worship, but every member of the congregation is aware that the mean age of our fellow church-goers is increasing. In other words, Baby Boomers are aging, dying and not being replaced by younger people. Older people in their eighties continue trying to keep up the level of Christian activity that had when younger, and are experiencing burnout and disillusionment.
The answer is not more of the same. The Anglican pattern of gathering
everyone for the Sunday Eucharist is only 60 years old, going back to the
Parish and People Movement of the 1950s. We can dare to envisage new ways of
Bunbury’s new Bishop, Ian Coutts, has been circulating copies of Surprise the World! as he visits parishes in his diocese. Bishop Ian states that responding to the Good News of Christ is pretty simple, really. Loving each other so that we want to reach out and love others.
He has chosen a book that all Anglicans can use and act on. The book is about “shar[ing] your faith in surprisingly simple ways.” Australian evangelist Michael Frost, Co-founder of the Forge Mission Training Network, encourages us to follow his model of B.E.L.L.S.: “We BLESS people, both inside and outside the church. We EAT together, sharing meals with believers and non-believers alike. We LISTEN to the … Holy Spirit. We intimately LEARN CHRIST, … [and] we see ourselves as SENT by God to everywhere life takes us.”
The strength of this model is that it does not assume that every Christian is a gifted evangelist. Few Christians are: most of us are to live our lives so that they provoke questions, “living a questionable life”, and answer them simply and directly as they arise out of our mixing with nonbelievers.
Frost emphasises that the B.E.L.L.S. model is not a one-off program, but the cultivation of life-long habits that will feed this evangelistic lifestyle. The model as described is not difficult or complicated, and it sounds fun, social justice will be practised and beauty will be encountered.
I am impressed by this little book. As a Franciscan tertiary, my first aim is to “make Christ known and loved everywhere”. These habits will speed my steps to opening doors to conversations about the Good News.
I am also in ongoing pain, a misfiring of my nervous system. Pain is closely related to depression: if you have pain, the pain will eventually make you depressed. Two spiritual strategies to defeat the depression, and so modulate the pain, are to reach out to others in need and put yourself out in the community (and not hide away in dangerous isolation). B.E.L.L.S. gives me means to do that (BLESSing and EATing) and also shows how to nurture these activities through prayer and Bible study (LISTENing and LEARNing Christ).
There are questions for discussion for each chapter of Surprise the World! These will help
readers take in what they have discovered and put the five habits into practise.
I am delighted that Bishop Ian recommended the book to me,
and that he is encouraging others to discover B.E.L.L.S. and whistles (no
whistles actually!) I read the book in three hours. Now I want to find three
people to meet with, discuss the book, and get busy. Hopefully, B.E.L.L.S. will
lead away from insanity!
On Australia Day in 2013, I blogged as a native, but not indigenous, Australian that we should prize the anger that comes from seeing this day as Invasion Day: anger that fuels social justice and reconciliation. I believed that we should celebrate the Aboriginal culture, with its complexity, subtlety and beauty, that has survived as Survival Day, and even rejoice in the culture that came from Europe but which has now been modified by its exposure to Aboriginal culture.
Australians all, let us rejoice seemed to be the theme of my blog six Australia Days ago. I still think my piece said it well for a whitefella.
But there has been a change in six years. The #changethedate campaign has made Australians more uncomfortable about celebrating on Invasion Day. But that campaign and others has also had another effect: it has empowered Aboriginal people to make something else of Australia Day.
Yesterday on the ABC I watched a smoking ceremony, I was welcomed to Eora country, I heard Yothu Yindi sing Tjapana and Treaty, I thrilled at superb didjeridoo playing, I was intrigued by those who spoke in language, and I felt unexpectedly proud when Advance Australia Fair was sung in an Aboriginal tongue.
It was an ABC concert, so I wasn’t surprised that actor and PlaySchool presenter Luke Carroll acted as one of the hosts, but his presence was a pointer to the extent to which the concert was coloured black! It was an Aboriginal takeover, and I felt moved. I felt pride that this was our land, and I felt warmly welcomed into its deep culture.
There were intense emotions expressed on the streets of capital cities at Invasion Day marches, and it is obvious that not all Indigenous people agree on strategy: should they protest until change happens, or should change happen by changing the mainstream celebration?
Whichever is the most effective strategy, Aboriginal people are speaking loudly. They must say whether Australia Day can be rescued or whether we can only express our belonging together on a day without the historical resonances of invasion and frontier wars.
I for one look forward to a celebratory date with Aboriginal and all Australians.
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life, London: Penguin Random House 2018. 728 pages, hardback. 45 full-colour plates. ISBN 9780670025572 $50 online.
The downside to studying theology at Melbourne’s Trinity College in the 1970s was the lack of explicit input concerning Anglicanism. The upside, of course, was access to the best lecturers in Australia regardless of denomination, and the cross-fertilisation between Methodists, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics and Anglicans.
We needed both, of course; the grounding in our own tradition,
and tools to engage with others. Overall, Trinity didn’t do too badly,
but I have felt my lack of knowledge about our Anglican tradition –
until now. Reading Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Thomas Cromwellwas like a semester-length course in the English Reformation with a particularly knowledgeable and clear communicator of Church History.
The first and obvious thing I learned was that the clichés of Henry VIII starting the Church of England solely to have his marriage to Queen Katherine annulled, and of Cromwell, the systematic destroyer of monasteries, are both wrong.
Cromwell did become one of Henry’s chief ministers, rising to Lord Privy Seal and Vice-Gerent of the Church before being torn down by enemies like the Duke of Norfolk and finally beheaded on the King’s orders. Henry and Cromwell were both politicians who needed each other, but MacCulloch discerns their subtly different agendas. Henry was at times obsessed with the Queen question, but he also sought to be the Supreme Head of a Church with the best of Lutheran theology and the conservation of many papist ideas, especially the real presence of the Lord in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.
Henry was a progressive Catholic, believing he could achieve a middle way conserving the best of Rome and political stability. Luther had given rise to great instability, so it was wisest while presenting Henry with Lutheran books, not to mention the name!
MacCulloch, who is Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University, argues that Thomas Cromwell pursued a consistent ‘evangelical’ agenda, ‘evangelical’ being the term he chooses to describe those pressing for reform. Cromwell knew how to use the power King Henry gave him as his Vice-Gerent of the Church. He put himself above all the bishops, even above his friend Archbishop Cranmer of Canterbury. He invited scholars from Geneva to bring reformed ideas to England. He promoted his ‘evangelical’ friends to important bishoprics. He encouraged printers to produce tracts that expressed his ’evangelical’ ideas, and was not afraid to explore even more radical views.
Cromwell ’s role in the dissolution of the monasteries is dissected with clarity, explaining why Cromwell ordered some to hand over their property to the king, while remaining friends with the Abbots and Priors of others.
Following his early mentor Cardinal Wolsey, Cromwell wanted to reform monastic life. In particular, he wanted them to become centres of bible study, social justice (including proper provision for the poor) and morality. Cromwell made sure there were proper pensions or livings for the monks after the lands of their monastery were distributed to the wealthy. The Anglican Church never condemned the principle of monasticism, just its corruption.
He promoted the principle of ordinary Christians reading the Bible, sometimes risking the King’s anger. He manoeuvred the King and Parliament into insisting that every church have an English Bible. Henry finally took pride in the Great Bible whose influence carried through all English translations. Cromwell often turned to the friar Miles Coverdale to carry out the work of translation.
It was the King, particularly when he needed more and more money to build up the coastal defences, who saw the dissolution of monasteries as a cash cow. He often left the details, and the blame, to his minister.
Thomas Cromwell was skilled in getting things done. He generated the contacts, he used his power ruthlessly, and he did more than others in centralising the organisation of the kingdom. He divided Wales into shires and put in charge there a trusted lieutenant. He tried the same, without great success, in Ireland.
Cromwell played a leading part in turning Tudor England from an island backwater into a major power. As a Member of Parliament responsible for managing the King ’s business first in the Commons and then in the House of Lords, Cromwell threw himself with great energy into the detail of legislation and process.
It may well be that Thomas Cromwell was the reason England did not experience the same violence as did Germany and other reforming countries.
The mystery of Thomas Cromwell is how he rose from the yeoman class to the most powerful Lord in the land after his King. Little is known of his early life, although MacCulloch has more information than other biographers. He learned several languages, presumably while in Europe. It was probably then that he developed his interest in the reform of the Church. He made friends with a number of Europeans, and used them to grow an import business. At some time, he was picked up by Cardinal Wolsey who trained him as a politician.
Professor MacCulloch traces the life of a great man whose influence in the development of England and the Anglican Church was long-lasting. Cromwell teased out the interdependence for England of Church and State. He served Henry VIII, that difficult master, with deep loyalty. He also inspired deep enmity, and conservative noble churchmen like the Duke of Norfolk were ever ready to bring down the upstart.
Though they succeeded, within a year, the King was complaining that he had lost his best advisor. Many of the men he had put into positions of power remained there after his death and extended their mentor’s influence in their lifetime.
Diarmaid MacCulloch has written a highly readable biography which should be a standard text for students of Anglicanism. For me, I am grateful that a large gap in my theological education has been filled so thoroughly and enjoyably.