Rev Dr Gordon Moyes The Superintendent Writes
A weekly column by Rev Dr Gordon Moyes, Superintendent of Wesley Mission.
July 1st, 2001

The legal battle for Aboriginal land rights has been fought for more than 30 years. The Methodist Church supported the Aboriginal people of Yirrkala (Queensland) in their fight against a mining company to determine the future of their land. The case was lost in the High Court. At the formation of the Uniting Church we again supported Aboriginal land rights at Aurukun against a mining company. We lost the appeal in the Privy Council in London. Although legally defeated, the churches maintained indigenous people have a moral right to claim this land. 

To say that before white occupation the land was not occupied, that terra nullius existed, is to claim Aboriginal people were so primitive that they could not comprehend the significance of land. That does not understand Aboriginal beliefs and life-style. That is why the Mabo decision in 1992 was so important. Eddie Mabo and two other Torres Straight Islanders claimed in court that they and their predecessors had continuous and sole ownership of their islands as communal native title. After ten years the High Court ruled indigenous people had rights over and against the whole world to claim their land as their own. There was no terra nullius. To deny them that right was a great injustice. There have been very few land claims under the Mabo precedent for few areas have been continuously and exclusively occupied by indigenous people. But the decision did mark the fact there was such a thing as native title. Since then we have been involved in reconciliation, of saying “sorry” and of considering a treaty between white and indigenous people.

This is not just a political football for point-scoring by politicians. It is a fundamental matter of justice and Christians must ensure that justice is done to the indigenous people.

Wesley Mission employs a number of indigenous people, and members of the 7pm congregation recently heard about what our staff from Nambucca Heads has been doing in building good community relationships. We are proud of the numbers of Aboriginal people who have been employed because of Wesley Mission. We have also developed some programs of self-help and these have been officially recognized and funded. We have a small number of indigenous people attend our services and we are proud of the contribution they make to our work.

Christian people have a primary responsibility to the first inhabitants of Australia. Those of us whose ancestors came later or who have just recently arrived must pray and support the first people of our land.