The Sisters of The Good Samaritan - Protection of Children, Young People and Vulnerable Adults
March 2012

Heeding Polding’s call about our first peoples

In 2010, the Commonwealth Government promised to hold a referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition at or before the next election. Surely now is the time to act, says Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.

BY Clare Condon SGS

For Christians, it is the Season of Lent, a time for preparing hearts and minds for the great feast of Easter. At this time I’ve been drawn to the riches of the past and have been reading the Lenten Pastoral of 1849 by the first Catholic Bishop of Australia, Archbishop John Bede Polding. In this powerful letter, Polding called the Catholic population to respond to his concerns about the interaction of the colonial settlement with Australia’s first people, its Indigenous population. This is what he said:

The wretched unfortunate Aborigines of the country – the first occupants of the lands over which your flocks and herds now roam – have a very strong claim upon you. Nor will the Lord hold you innocent if you have not used your best endeavours to promote their temporal and eternal well-being”.

In numerous settings during his long life, Polding expressed his dismay and his deep concern about the way in which white settlements were overtaking Indigenous people, their culture and their way of life. He complained bitterly to the legislative bodies of his day about the ongoing destruction of the Indigenous peoples and their spiritual attachment to the land. However, Polding was a man of his time, and he did not understand fully the implications of what was happening to these first peoples.

It’s 163 years since Polding wrote his pastoral letter and the Indigenous peoples of Australia still do not have recognition in the basic document of their country – the Constitution.

In the recently released expert panel report commissioned by the Commonwealth Government to address this very important matter, the opening sentence calls the nation to action. It states: “Current multi-party support has created a historic opportunity to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the first peoples of Australia, to affirm their full and equal citizenship, and to remove the last vestiges of racial discrimination from the Constitution”.

In 2010, the Commonwealth Government promised to hold a referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition at or before the next election. Surely now is the time to act. Let there be no more delay. It is time for the Australian people “to use [their] best endeavours”:

  • to give rightful and just recognition to the first peoples of this land;
  • to acknowledge the continuing relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with their land and values;
  • to respect the cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and finally,
  • to secure the advancement of these first peoples of this nation.

 Polding’s strong words to the Catholic community in 1849 continue to be a challenge for us in 2012.

“The first occupants of the lands… have a very strong claim upon you… Nor will the Lord hold you innocent if you have not used your best endeavours to promote their temporal and eternal well-being”.

As Catholics and Australian citizens we should join the current multi-party support and insist that our Federal politicians fulfill the promise that they made in 2010. We have a Gospel imperative to respond. Now is the time to act without delay. The Gospel is compromised if we don’t.

Clare Condon

Sister Clare Condon is a former Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She served two terms as leader from September 2005 until September 2017. In 2013, Clare was awarded a Human Rights Medal by the Australian Human Rights Commission in recognition of the Good Samaritan Sisters’ work with asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians and the victims of domestic violence.

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