We’re in ur land, redeemin ur children.

The United Aborigines Mission. This stuff went out of fashion years ago, didn’t it? Those missions – the ones that stole children, tortured them, and stripped them of their heritage – they’re completely gone, aren’t they? What with the Bringing Them Home report and all. Not a trace survives, at least not out and proud. Or so I thought.

Until I came across this.

“With over 100 years of continuous missionary activity to the indigenous peoples of Australia, UAM has been at the forefront of Australian missionary endeavor and has established a reputation for its concern for both the physical and spiritual welfare for the Aboriginal people. Relying on God and in fellowship with the established indigenous church, UAM Ministries seeks to bring the gospel of Christ as it is revealed in Scripture, to the Aboriginal people of our day.”

Have a poke around the site, and soak up the creepaliciousness of it all. On your way to the Newsletters archive, don’t miss the ham-fisted, context-free “Cultural Perspective” section. It’s a laff a minute.

The story of Lula gives away a little more of the mission’s philosophy.

“Isaiah 9:2 “the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

This was the vision that Mr & Mrs Wade had and it was to these people that the Lord called them to take the light of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. So in 1934 they went in search of these people that walked in darkness.”

They want you to believe that they feel a sense of calling, of responsibility. What they’re really asserting is a right – the God-given right of a dominant group to inscribe an othered group, to impose its beliefs on them. These missionaries still consider Australian indigenous culture to be a terra nullius, their spiritual life a dark, sin-drenched hole crying out to be filled with zealotry-fuelled Christian light.

It doesn’t occur to them that any non-Christian people can be a people whole unto themselves. Until they are enveloped by the religion of the conquerors, they are deficient. From the beginning, colonists have fallen hook, line and sinker for their own publicity: they truly believe they are the bringers of spirituality. Civilisation. Culture. And above all, light. Light to the people of darkness, enlightenment to the heathens, and whiteness to the – how would the UAM’s crack Culture Team put it? “Non-non-Aboriginal”?

I’ll leave you with a little case study from the first quarter 2001 newsletter. Charles and Wilma have returned to Fitzroy Crossing, in the far north of WA, after a sixteen-year break. They’re very proud of their efforts to learn a smattering of Bunaba and Kriol. Maybe they have Black Best Friends, too. What threw my Creepy Detector into overdrive was this menacing line:

“Wilma is keen to do children’s work, having been trained in child evangelism and extensive experience in this area.”

Child evangelism. Child evangelism.

They might not be allowed to take children away bodily these days, but they’ll sure as hell try to take their souls. Child evangelism is revisited in this little ditty from a 2000 newsletter:

creepy child evangelism poem

Wilma continues her mission diary thus:

“First to the broom dust and grim amass in an abandoned abode! But the gas stove works and the power is on, and ceiling fans work in all the rooms, but not the air-conditioner. A-OK.- the rooms are airy and ample. Just two appliances conspicuous by their absence, a fridge and washing machine. But those arrogant little white ants don’t wait to be asked in and have been working arduously! “

Yeah. What she said.

Categories: indigenous, religion, social justice

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12 replies

  1. I’ve found the full-on missionary mindset (as distinct from those who live a live of faith and witness their beliefs humbly just by being full of grace and generosity to others) to be just as arrogant no matter what the colour of the skin involved. One of the “mission partners” of the Anglican church near us is a family of Italian Protestants on a Christian mission to Catholic Italians in the South of Italy, which strikes me as an astonishing coals to Newcastle situation, unless of course one really believes that Catholics aren’t “real” Christians, which is a whole ‘nother rant.
    Still, that poem does have an extra quality to it, definitely, and the whole idea of child evangelism reminds me of discovering how my son and other children at school had been introduced to the concept of unbelievers (aka their parents) going to hell unless they loved Jesus by the resident staff at the grounds where a school camp took place. These missionaries only had evangelising contact with them for a few hours spread over a few days and obviously wanted to make a strong impact. Luckily autistic children daydream a lot and don’t pay attention much unless they’re really interested. Other parents weren’t so fortunate with their children’s reactions to the “scripture sessions”.
    This woman no doubt specialises in telling children “supportively” and “caringly” that everyone who loves them is going to burn in hell.

  2. I re-read some bits of the website I haven’t read for a while, and caught another bout of the shudders. These people are filled with nostalgia for the glorious past of their residential missions.
    This was written in 2001:

    ”This is a story about a young aboriginal girl by the name of Yikuwarra (known as Lula Nelson in later years) She was one of the first girls who came into the mission home at Warburton Ranges. She came to know the Lord and accepted him as her saviour and Lord and was baptised. She was married to a tribal man as is the aboriginal custom, a very unhappy situation, but there was no other way.”

    And this, by the org president:

    “As I have been prompted to reflect on the great work done by missionaries of the UAM in the past[..] In the great army of people who have served in UAm in over 100 years of history, living by faith in the power of God to keep them, there have been those who will be especially remembered for the great love and kindness they shower as they spent their lives in the service of the great Jehovah among the Aboriginal people of Australia. Prominent among them would be the missionaries who worked in the children’s homes at Bomaderry, NSW and Colebrook at Quorn, SA.[…] These dear servants of God sure are ‘great Australian heroes’.”

  3. I actually worked for a Uniting Church offshoot in Alice Springs (not as a missionary) and there is a lot of good work going on that isn’t necessarily ‘christianising’ people, but more helping them out. Like the example of cleaning out an abandoned house so that people can live in it, providing applicances etc. Lucky to have electricity from what I have seen. That said the whole evangalising children thing I strongly object to. But if it’s a choice between them going to church or going to drugs then I can see the point. In their hamfisted way they are probably trying to make a difference. I know that doesn’t make it right, but which is the greater evil?

  4. Hi Mindy – this article wasn’t intended as a “no Christians ever do good works” thing, though I’ve found some people interpret it that way, thinking that any criticism of some Christianity is a swipe at all Christians. I am reminded of men thinking that any swipe against patriarchy is a broadly man-hating rant. Can I quote from Ilyka?

    “A lot of the guys written about on feminist blogs do things I would never do.”
    “Then don’t identify with them. It’s not about you! You stand to pee, they stand to pee, beyond that, what’s the commonality?”

    I’m glad to hear you were involved in useful community works. I guess I would hope that there was also cultural and spiritual respect involved in your mission’s work – the Uniting Church does seem (to me) a little better at that than some other sects.
    There is nothing on the UAM’s website about any community works that I could find – just churches, Bible studies, and preaching.
    The creepiest thing is that the UAM really do offer the impression that they nostalgically believe that the residential missions and the stolen generations were their glory days, and that child evangelism is their true calling.
    I’m not sure what to think about your “church or drugs” dichotomy. I don’t believe it’s a useful one, as there are plenty of other possibilities. Nor are they mutually exclusive choices!

  5. I can certainly see how providing someone with a sense of belonging and caring can help them find a path away from drug abuse, and this is where I think the religious missions do have a built-in advantage, with fellowship structured into the base of the entire support system.

    The error, as I see it, comes when people look at the strength of the fellowship aspect of religions and think that religious belief itself is the cureall, when what helps people is actually being around other people of goodwill.

  6. The UC was, I thought, a bastion of reason up there. Interestingly, apart from the Padre, none of us were particularly religious.
    The church or drugs dichotomy is simplistic, but for many of these kids the idea that someone loves them, even if it is a ‘unseeable deity’ is enough to keep them going and keep them off drugs. Doesn’t work for everyone, but even saving one is enough.
    I do find the harking back to the ‘good old days’ disturbing too. It’s a bit ironic that they are trying to fix the problems that they had a bit part in creating in the first place. I suspect they don’t see it that way though.

  7. In contrast to the group Lauredhel found, I rather like the Centre for and Ethical Society, which aims to promote Christian social and ethical values within the democratic tradition to enhance the common good in Australian society.
    I’m all for forward looking moderate/liberal religious groups working on social justice issues. They’ve got a strong natural constituency which is capable of mounting a strong challenge to the rusted-on adherents of economic rationalism. More power to them.

  8. If only they were all like that!

  9. [Hoyden note: I’m letting this post through not because I endorse the allegations within. I went back and forth on the post in moderation because of its racist overtones as well as the fact that it doesn’t address the point of my post. I’ve ended up deciding to allow it through wholesale, mostly because it inadvertently makes my primary point for me: that these people haven’t disappeared, and that we as a country need to remain vigilant about the potential racist and religionist biases of “child protection” advocates in order to avoid re-descending into defining Aboriginal people as subhuman “for their own good”. The events of the past few weeks have more than adequately demonstrated this to anyone who’s paying attention. …Lauredhel.]
    Im actually quite upset that people could possible pass judgement on something they no not about.
    I am Mr and Mrs Wades Great Grand Daughter, Children Taken from Parents in the Warburton Missions were for good reason, i have photos in the family of the extensive time they spent there, and of photos of these poor children that families are crying for compensation and are say they were miss treated, I have never once seen a photo of a child there that was NOT malnurished, Babies with serious burns from parents laying there children near fire to sleep, a death at least ever couple days, i have photos of a mother breast feeding her baby, the baby was a twig in size, the mother had dried up a week earlier. I then have photos of the babies Funeral!
    The missionaries Educated against Government objections! Yes religion was a sorce of comfort to them but spending time clothing, feeding and teaching and them there selves learning from them left not a great deal of time for the evangilistic talk all has said.
    Perhaps instead of critersizing a person for actually trying to help others maybe look around and realise that If a child was in the same bad way now days would you just stand back?
    Oh and alot of the aborginal mothers LEFT there children in the missions some came back for them when they felt like it , alot of the other child in the missions was because parents had died!

  10. Why thank-you for allowing my opinion!

    Just a note though to tell you, that i am not religious, nor a RACIST!! Perhaps you took me incorrectly!

    My family has been added as part of your critisism and i am just pointing out simple facts, I dont fully agree with what all the missionaries did in the past, and i believe that everybody should have the freedom to live there life to there likes, though i was simply pointing out that Many and no not all of the children that were so called taken were in need, if my children were in those circumstances i would hope for somebody to take them and give them a life i could not.

    I dont particular care much for some of the work undertaken by the UAM but i also know that they did try to do right, it just depended on the actual missionary on whether it was fanatical or not.

    My point is simply that While my family was at the Warburton mission these fanatical religious ravings werent part of the deal,i have read my great grand mothers diary and it says more about them learning from the aboriginals then them learning from them, The Warburton mission was a place that clothed, feed, and housed not only children but adults, those who didnt want to come to the mission were not made, those who took religion on did so, so who continued it did so also perhaps if you took the time to research some of the people of the mission ( the children for example) they actually have stated that there dont think there were part of the stolen and have nothing more then gratitude.

    Suming it all up, The Warburton mission was Given to the aboriginal people and is now run by the council, so the past is past, the future is for them to decide.

  11. just another quick one to prove my words, below is a link to a site for the Tjulyuru Aboriginal Art site that actally provides the history, please read how it was help not hinder.

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