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Monday, 01 November 2004 00:00

God's Dream for Alice Springs in the Heart of Australia.

God 's Dream for Alice Springs in the Heart of Australia. 



October 15 to 30, 2004 brought to an end the planned contribution of the Institute for Healing of Memories to Alice Springs. We had been invited by the Anglican Diocese of the Northern Territory under the leadership of Bishop Philip Freier as part of its response to the Stolen Generation. The Anglican Board of Missions has provided strong support and funding during the last three years. 


Originally; although not to be, it had been hoped that a documentary film might be made during 2004 about healing of memories. That possibility lead this year’s visit to be divided into two parts. 


We held a healing of memories workshop in August. It was decided that Part II of 2004 would focus in four areas – work with indigenous youth, facilitator training, new contacts with particular organizations and (for the first time outside South Africa), a Phase II Workshop. (Phase II is a one day workshop which focuses on Dealing with Anger, Overcoming Hatred and Struggling with Forgiveness and is exclusively for people who have been to a healing of memories workshop.)


On the flight to Alice Springs, I began to read Henry Reynolds, “Why Weren’t we told? A personal search for the Truth about our History” This riveting book outlines how he, like generations of Australians, were brought up with the myths of peaceful settlement rather than the truth about an invasion, resistance, and numerous massacres. Incontrovertible evidence is produced of the historic role Aboriginal people played in the creation of modern Australia. Overwhelming evidence is also produced that the colonial power itself did not regard Australia as terra nullius for most of the 19th century. In previous reports, I have referred to recent works that have sought to debunk the work of Reynolds and others which has lead to intense and heated debate concerning the truth about Australia’s past.


My question was why white Australia had been for so long in denial about the violence of its colonial past. 


Towards the end of my time in Alice, I came across a review and then the full text of an extraordinary piece of writing by Germaine Greer, Whitefella Jump Up – the shortest way to nationhood. Greer suggests that embracing Aboriginality is the only way Australia can fully imagine itself as a nation and how a sense of beig Aborigial might save thesoul of Australia .


I had come alone in August and now returned with my colleague, Themba Lonzi, who coordinates the Institute’s, Youth Development program. The YDP focuses on what young people can learn about and from the past. During July, Themba had presented his program with indigenous youth in Perth and it was agreed that it would also be offered to indigenous youth in Alice. It was planned that there would be youth seminars at 3 different schools, Yperenye a school for urban indigenous youth, Yirara College with indigenous children from remote areas and Anzac High, a public secondary school with a significant number of indigenous students. Unfortunately and disappointingly, logistical problems at Anzac, prevented the seminar there from happening. I was also asked to address the school assembly at Yirara college and Themba sang followed by a class about the history of the liberation struggle in South Africa attended by two classes and a number of teachers. On another day Themba lead 5 different classes at Yirara and had a seminar with students from Yperenye. 



On our first Saturday in Alice, we had facilitator training with nine of us all together. Once more we had the pleasure of using Campfire in the Heart, a conference/retreat facility on the outskirts of Alice co-ordinated by David and Sue Woods. David has been part of the Healing of memories process since we first came to Alice and with his and Sue’s commitment to community, to spirituality, to healing and to the importance of “story” it is a natural home for healing of memories in Central Australia.


Themba and I were both interviewed on CAAMA – the indigenous media network which has been consistently welcoming and happy to give our work exposure as well as to contribute to current debates about dealing with the past


During our second week in Alice we met with a number of organisations and individuals including Mrs Patricia Miller, Director of the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service who is also Deputy to the Administrator of the Northern Territory; Kathy Abbott and 
Eunice Blackmore of the Akeyulerre Apmere Cultural Health Service and the Stolen Generation unit.


On several occasions we showed a 15 minute video about the healing of memories process including a small evening event at the Anglican rectory


On our second Saturday in Alice we went back to Campfire in the Heart for the workshop on anger, hatred and forgiveness with 8 participants. Their expectations included a feeling of apprehension, the positive effect of processing, personal growth, insight, openness, and opportunity to deal more with feelings, to become an owl in the darkness, revisiting and taking the temperature, deeper ‘mining’ to uncover layers as part of the journey of healing 


During the afternoon we divided into two groups and came back together at the end of the day. We asked each group to present two role plays taken from the stories which were shared which had involved anger, hatred or forgiveness. During the first role play – a situation was portrayed as it happened and then re-presented in a way that would be more life giving.


The learnings which emerged included: 
don’t let frustrations build up 
own and express our feelings 
find ways of speaking/acting that affirm rather than discredit self and others 
important to be in touch with our feelings so that we can identify and express them clearly 
valuable to have opportunities to revisit and reflect on experiences 
the importance of integrating ‘head’ and ‘heart’ 
understanding and identifying our own ‘buttons’ or ‘trigger points’ and allowing oneself ‘time-out’ 
engaging in self care 
{confronting racism } without losing own dignity 
{ confronting own fears} 
recognising our own limitations – being kind to ourselves when we can’t do what we know/feel is ‘right’ 
self honesty re journey as a continuous process


Our final Evaluation included 
gaining different view of a previous experience 
learning about my own anger – how I see it 
appreciation of own and other’s anger 
complexity of addressing issues, and recognising cost of doing 
importance of following own convictions 
sitting in truth – hard work, tiring, but rare and precious opportunity 
enrichment, ‘home away from home’; good opportunity to continue dealing with feelings 
an appreciation of a restorative justice way of managing challenging situations 
insight into network of things previously not seen 
discovery of life-giving and constructive ways of being angry 
honouring anger as a spur to healthy action 
acknowledging the complexities and feeling ok about the resulting confusion/lack of resolve 
recognising that whilst anger can be an initial motivation to struggles for justice, that if we stay with anger it can consume us – if we are to be healthy we have to stay with struggles for justice, not just reacting but with a positive vision, for love.


On the night before the final workshop, in the midst of dinner under the stars and as the full moon began to show itself, some of the facilitators met and began to plot a way forward for healing of memories. Interest and a commitment has been expressed to bring Themba and his Mina Nawe theatre Group back to Alice. Future plans include a meeting in late November inviting previous workshop participants and others interested people. It was suggested that they would aim for a come together every couple of months and two healing of memories workshops next year. It was recognised that a list of possible participants for the next workshop had begun to be gathered. There is a network of interested organisations but individuals are much more likely to come as a consequence of personal invitation which is monitored and followed up through ongoing gentle encouragement. The nature of healing of memories means that there is often ambivalence, fear and apprehension about dealing with the past. The possibility of using the healing of memories model in the jail was discussed.


The workshops during these last two weeks with the participation of old and new facilitators has enabled the forging of strong bonds among the facilitators. There is now a core group poised and ready to take the process forward. 



We also spoke about how various organisations might use healing of memories as a further string to his bow. We now have a core of trained facilitators, 3 of whom are indigenous women. It was recognised that some participants had come to a workshop motivated by their own need for healing whilst others had come with the desire to hear stores across racial and cultural divides. Nevertheless it was recognised that as well as personal healing, the HOM workshop is a powerful tool towards reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. There was also the suggestion to be explored further of a workshop offered by the indigenouse facilitators within the indigenous community.


I indicated my own willingness to return to Alice Springs in 2005 in relation to the documentary,and connected to other trips to Australia and that the commitment, support and assistance of the Diocese and ABM would need to be explored 



On the last day of the visit to Alice Springs, I was asked to preach at the Sunday Mass at the church of the Asencion Anglican Church. As I left the service a parishioner told me of how indigenous colleagues refused to enter certain shops in Alice Springs, because they had been denied entrance in the past. My sermon began with quoting from the Old Testament lesson taken from the first and second chapter of the book of Habbakuk. This passage focusses on a dialogue between the prophet and God about God’s failure to act in the face of the triumph of forces of injustice and violence. Why did God not stop the genocide in Rwanda? Why does God not step in to stop the genocide in Darfur? These questions about personal suffering as well as collective injustice have troubled people through the ages.


In South Africa, there is a song black people sang during the apartheid years – Senzenina? What have we done, that we should suffer - is it because of the colour of our skin?


During the apartheid years, the South African government presided over the strongest military machine on the continent of Africa with nuclear capability courtesy of the West.


Archbishop Tutu used to tell people that we live in a moral universe and unjust regimes are destined to be relegated to the dustbin of history – at the time it seemed unbelievable – but just a few months ago, the party that created apartheid was dissolved and consigned to the dustbin of history.


Our God is a God of history.


The lesson from Habbakuk asserts that God is sovereign and that in the end good will triumph over evil and people are called to remain faithful


In the book of Genesis it is asserted that God made ALL human beings in God’s own image and likeness and therefore all share equal value.


In today’s gospel we heard the story of Zaccheus. Although Zaccheus is considered to be a ‘sellout’ and is despised, Jesus asserts his fundamental value as a human being. Again and again Jesus asserts a common humanity in how he relates to and talks about, sex workers, the good Samaritan, the roman soldier, the thief on the cross, the woman caught in adultery. 
Often it was respectable religious people who struggled with what Jesus was saying. 

However we church people are often slow learners – it took us nearly 1800 years of Christian history to realize slavery was wrong – and then in England the bishops did not support the abolition of slaver y – not probably because they believed in slavery, although perhaps some did, but because of conservatism, a commitment against change. And yet who would want to defend slavery today.


Then the struggle of women for equality. NZ, first gave the vote to women closely followed by Australia. But not without a struggle. Many years later women began to insist that God was calling them to be priests. Most people were not changed to support women’s ordination by intellectual argument but through meeting women who spoke of their experience of being called by God.


In South Africa communists were generally much quicker to assert the evil of racism and apartheid. Only much later did the church proclaim that apartheid was a heresy.


And now it is same gender loving persons who are asserting their right to an equal place in the sun.


In my experience, we are all against all forms of oppression except the ones we are in favour of. We are often much clearer about those who oppress us and those whom we oppress.


For the last four years, together with my colleagues from the Institute for healing of memories, I have come here to Alice Springs.


Our work has been to create the spaces for people to tell each other their stories.


Indigenous people have lived here for thousands of year. Most of the people who are in this church have come from other parts of Australia – why? For many reasons but have not many come to sort out their lives, to make sense of their own lives, to deal with their own brokenness.


I have just been a visitor but I have heard the stories – the stories of pain and hurt, of separation, of brokeneess and of racism and violence. But also the stories of gentleness and of kindness.


We all have dreams for ourselves, for our community and for the nation.


But what is God’s dream for us, for this parish, for Alice Springs for Australia, for the human family.


I shared the story of Harnosand in Northern Sweden which experienced racism against refugees. A young Swedish woman who worked for the welfare of refugees, was killed by a refugee with psychiatric problems. Her father, started a movement called the 5 to12 movement and created spaces for refugees and townsfolk to meet and tell each other their stories. The town is now renowned for its multiculturalism, tolerance and anti-racism.


In the recent elections, Australians voted for their comfort and security and did not care about reconciliation, about refugees and those suffering from war. But there is another side of Australians which I have experienced, of generosity, kindness and compassion which will once more come to the fore. 


God has a dream for Alice Springs. Because we are at the heart of Australia, it is of disproportionate importance. Are we willing to seek for and to co-operate in God’s dream for this place? In our own modest way I hope the work of the Institute has been a contribution to God’s dream of a place where people would be listened to, accepted, and received with compassion.


I have often asked myself why I survived a bomb that was supposed to kill. To be a sign of the violence we do to each other. But much more importantly, in a small way, to be a sign that God is sovereign, that in the end, the forces of God,of justice, kindness, compassion and gentleness are stronger than the forces of evil and hatred and death.


So let us offer and take the bread and wine which becomes Christ’s body and blood – food for our journey of becoming part of God’s dream for the human family. Amen 


Fr Michael Lapsley, SSM 
Alice Springs 
1 November, 2004