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Pope John Paul II's message to Indigenous Australians

By Stephen Hagan - posted Wednesday, 27 April 2005

Winter months are special at the Hagan household as it allows us the luxury of indulging in our favourite pastime - watching North Queensland, Penrith, Port Adelaide, Essendon and Brisbane Lions Indigenous players display their exceptional talent on our television screen.

Our family, like most Indigenous people we keep company with, have moved away from the maintenance of club loyalties to a partiality for cheering on teams with significant Indigenous representation. If the team loses its Indigenous players, they also lose us as supporters. Sounds insular? Well that’s the way it is.

After a good start to the first weekend in April seeing the Cowboys and Power gain victories in their respective games I found it surreal to be flicking between free-to-air and Austar channels for a non-sporting event: updates on the passing of Pope John Paul II.


Although baptised an Anglican I attended a Catholic Boys Boarding School and later returned to the flock when married by the country’s first Indigenous Anglican Bishop, Rt Rev Arthur Malcolm. My children attend a Lutheran Primary School and a Catholic Secondary School.

And although we aren’t churchgoers, my wife and I exhibit the same commitment to a greater-being as dyed-in-the-wool Christians do. Our god is our spirit-being who personifies our traditional cultural values.

As I became engrossed in the televised chronicle of this unpretentious but influential religious man’s life I recalled a speech he made to Indigenous people when he visited Central Australia back in 1986.

After clicking onto the Google search engine under the NATSIEC site I came across the speech in question (sourced from the Vatican) made by the Pope at Blatherskite Park, Alice Springs, on November 29, 1986.

In his inspirational speech Pope John Paul II addressed his devoted audience that day as, "Dear brothers and sisters", and proffered remarkable empathy to our plight. His views then, on land rights and the stolen generation, are poignant reading today given recent developments in Indigenous affairs.

In part Pope John Paul II said:


For thousands of years this culture of yours was free to grow without interference by people from other places. You lived your lives in spiritual closeness to the land, with its animals, birds, fishes, waterholes, rivers, hills and mountains. You did not spoil the land, use it up, exhaust it, and then walk away from it. You realised that your land was related to the source of life.

Some of the stories from your Dreamtime legends speak powerfully of the great mysteries of human life, its frailty, its need for help, its closeness to spiritual powers and the value of the human person.

You have learned how to survive, whether on your own lands, or scattered among the towns and cities.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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