Welcome to Country

On Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday-5th July- Ngunnawal man, Michael Bell, began Mass by welcoming the St Augustine’s Parish Community to his country. Some excerpts from his speech are included below.

“I would like to acknowledge my Ngunnawal Elders any other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Elders, I would also like to acknowledge the ancestries and descendants of all the people represented here today that make up our Dioceses and St Augustine’s community.

Yuma –  my name is Michael Bell youngest son of Ken and Pam Bell, I descend from the Woollabalooa clan of the Ngunnawal Nation, the Woolabalooa are a northern Ngunnawal clan which has its traditional connection to Yaar, the area that is now known as Yass. I am here today to welcome you to the traditional land of my people the Ngunnawal, on this very special National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday Celebration.

As we the Ngunnawal people have always known, this has been our traditional land for as far back as the spoken word can carry. We also know it will continue to be the traditional land of my people into the future. In acknowledging that we gather on the traditional land of the Ngunnawal, St Augustine’s is paying respect to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history of Australia.

Why have a Welcome? Before colonisation and before the pioneers came to the Yaar Plains, it was the tradition of Aboriginal people that when strangers came into their particular country to hunt or to gather, or to just pass through on their way to other places, that the host Aboriginals’ tribe would go out to welcome them. The visitor’s presence was made know by the use of fire and a column of smoke, accordingly the reply was returned the same way. When the two groups met, there would be the formalities of the greeting, a smoking ceremony. Part of the ceremony of welcome would be the men sitting around and talking men’s business whilst the host women would take the visiting women and children to a women’s site to talk women’s business. When this was completed, the two groups would join again and a feast and corroboree would take place.

During these ceremonies, the visiting tribe would be taken and shown the sites of significance and be told the stories of the spirit of the land they would be passing. In this way, the hosts believed that by the end of formalities, when the strangers were ready to move on – they would not be considered strangers but friends who now had the spirit of the country in their hearts—they carried the Ngunna with them—just like the people who lived there. They believed that once the spirit of the land was in their hearts, then those people would never damage the land – they would love it and care for it like those whose home country it was. With that history lesson in mind I would like to give you all another more recent insight to our history and take you back to the origins of St Augustine’s.”

Michael then provided a potted history of the establishment of the Catholic Parish of St Augustine’s in Yass and made the connection between the welcome he was extending to parishioners in Ngunnawal Country on Sunday 5th July 2020 and the welcome that was given to the Sisters of Mercy upon their arrival in Yass in December 1875. On that occasion, following a speech made by Bishop Lanigan, an Aboriginal elder stepped out of the crowd and welcomed the “Sacred Ladies” on behalf of her Ngunnawal people. Michael also identified the earlier relationships developed between Fr Charles Lovat and the Aboriginal people of Yass as being positive and contributing to a successful Catholic parish in Yass.

 Following Michael’s wonderful welcome, Fr Mick Burke also spoke of the positive relationship between the Aboriginal people of Yass and the pioneering Catholic priests and nuns. However, Fr Mick further acknowledged that historically there had been areas of tension that had not always been successfully resolved. He identified embracing the theme of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday, “Together in the Spirit” as being the way forward to achieving Reconciliation, healing and an authentic Australian Catholic Church.

 St Augustine’s Parish would like to thank Sally Fitzgerald, Archdiocesan representative at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Catholic Council (NATSICC), for her advice and beautiful fabrics that were used in the Sanctuary for Sunday’s Mass.

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