On Wednesday 24 January 2018, at the Wheeler Centre, I was fortunate to be part of a double launch with Jeanine Leane whose Walk Back Over is a strong work of non-fiction poetry. The launch speeches and our readings were recorded by Australian Poetry and are now available on Sound Cloud. My gratitude to Kent MacCarter, Bonny Cassidy, Jeanine Leane, Timmah Ball, Jacinta Le Plastrier, Australian Poetry and The Wheeler Centre.
At a launch there are always things that don’t get said as well as things that do. My connection with the Binnap Partners of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Victoria was mentioned, and I commented that I am not very active with the Partners now, nor have been for some time, especially since I moved away from the inner city to Seaford. But what I needed to say is that were it not for being introduced to Aboriginal Catholic Ministry and their Binnap Partners back in 1995, White on White (Cordite Books 2018) would not have come about, and Kin (Five Islands Press 2014) would be very different.
Aboriginal Catholic Ministry is an Indigenous initiated and led organisation that, as their 1996 publication Invisible No More tells, traces its beginnings to house meetings in 1984. The ministry developed a model of partnership and invited non-Indigenous people to share this vision as Binnap partners from 1992. The Binnap, a Wurundjeri word, is a seed from the manna gum, that nourished both Indigenous and, in early colonial times, non-Indigenous people. It was chosen by the group “to symbolise the possibility of sharing and being nurtured by the same source” (ACM-Binnap Partners).
In 1995 I was invited by Marg Hill who then worked for Aboriginal Catholic Ministry to consider joining the Binnap partners, and I have been in contact with them over the intervening years, participating in meetings and meals in the early years, occasional Eucharists and events, a bit of editing assistance with Aunty Betty Pike one year, but very little (next to nothing, and I am not being humble saying that) in comparison to what I received by way of education.
In addition to what I learnt from occasional and informal interactions with Aboriginal Catholic leaders at the Ministry, three things stand out: the first Binnap workshops I attended; the Thooami retreats in the Barmah forest; the Vigil recalling massacres in Victoria. I recollect the last of these in the poem “On All Souls’ Eve ^” ( you can read this poem in a free ebook from Cordite: 20 Poets).
The Binnap workshops took us through a shared history, the way non-Indigenous people are confronted by the violence underpinning our being here and how it challenges our desire to see ourselves as good people, the way both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are in ongoing grief (but differently) because of colonisation, especially both the theft of Country and ensuing dispossession, the policies of assimilation and the stolen generations (and in the last 10-11 years we can add the Intervention, first known by Government as the Northern Territory Emergency Response, NTER). I recall mentioning to a Yorta Yorta woman toward the end of one such day the word “reconciliation”; she firmly said “no, not reconciliation; solidarity”. We were not there yet, nor are we now.
The Thooami retreats were held on Yorta Yorta Country in the Barmah Forest where we spent time learning from Yorta Yorta the history of their struggle, being invited to quietly listen to the land, seeing the damage to the soil from cattle, and sitting round camp fires in the evening being told ghost and other tall stories. That quality of attentiveness to Country combined with political action, and personal interaction, helped inform my writing in Claimed by Country, Kin, and White on White.
In her poem “Whitefellas” which you can hear in the recording above, Jeanine Leane writes “Truth is, Australia doesn’t work / without Aborigines!” My own work in biblical and ecotheological research and poetry would have taken a very different track but for those interactions (unquantifiable and unrepayable) with Aboriginal Catholic Ministry and the Binnap Partners, especially in the second half of the 1990s. I offer my thanks and hope that my writing is a small, necessarily inadequate, contribution to the possibility of a different future together.