We are definitely in the “roaring forties” as the wind whips the trees around amid a
glorious sunrise. Our room overlooks Mt Wellington, a 6,000 foot peak that dominates the landscape (think of it being in Gresham). The clouds are still glowing with a lovely mix of colors. Friday we went out to a stunning bay along the Tasmine Sea: Wineglass Bay is definitely shaped to suggest its name. Steep granite cliffs and some incredible rock formations. Well worth the trip along with getting to see some of the countryside — lots of sheep, grapes and other agriculture. A beautiful, sunny still day. Locals thought it was a chill winter day. We found it to be a sunny October day equivalent. Lots of flowers in Tasmania despite the time of year, so definitely milder than most of Portland’s winters.
Last night was the formal opening of the yearly meeting, highlighted by a “Welcome to Country” from a young Aboriginal woman who greeted us in her language and with her songs. This was followed by a brief history of Friends in Tasmania, starting with James Backhouse who as a young man had a strong leading from God to leave England for this distant corner of the world. After spending some time in English prisons with Elizabeth Fry who worked among the convict women about to be deported to Australia, he and his sailing companion George Walker initiated the first meeting for worship here in Hobart in the early 1830s and also did much
exploration and scientific observation of this land so new to Englishmen. The Aboriginal peoples had been in Australia perhaps 50,000 years or more–and were nearly wiped out in a matter of decades by disease and violence. Friends all across the country have been developing relationships with these First Nations people, seeking recognition of their culture and their respect for the sacredness of the land. Often I have heard Friends in conversation and at the start of Meetings recognize that they only are borrowing use of the land and cannot claim ownership of it
A brochure that was given in Perth starts out:
“Nyungah/Noongar people lived on, managed and enjoyed the land Quaker now occupy for many thousands of years before our building was here. . . Our British ancestors chose not to recognize any sort of ownership on the part of the Noongar people: no treaty, no payment given for the land they lived on. . . . Noongar traditional life-style appears simple but was in fact intricate and sustained a profound physical and spiritual connection to the land. This was immediately disrupted by invasion in 1829. Europeans were initially hosted as visitors by Noongar people, to whom the possibility of leaving your land permanently and settling elsewhere was inconceivable. They therefore shared locations of water and fertile land.”
This Perth brochure ends:
“Our Meetinghouse stands on land taken by force from the original occupiers.
It has been bought and sold several times since then.
Does that mean that the land now belongs to Quakers?
Legally, by Australian law: yes
Legally, by Noongar law: no.
Spiritually and morally, where do we stand?
As individuals? as Friends?
As a Quaker Meeting?”
There are many communities of Aboriginal peoples still scattered across the land, each with their own language. I believe there were as many as 9 at one point in Tasmania, but only 3 remain. I am humbled by actions of Friends here to accept that they share in this history and have responsibility do change what they can.
This is a beautiful land, familiar to those of us from the PNW with the blankets of trees flowing across the mountains and the proximity of the sea. The winters are similar to ours with rain, wind and very rare snow except in the mountains.
For those interested, my talk was taped and is posted on the Australia Yearly Meeting website along with the (much longer) printed version of the talk which can be downloaded.