John Harris tells a story that shows the complexity of memory and education across generations.
There are mixed views about missions today among Aboriginal people, and unfortunately Aboriginal people are being taught certain views about the missions – I’m talking about Aboriginal people who did not themselves experience the missions.
I went back to the centenary of the old Roper River Mission at Ngukurr. And the people there asked me to help them write a book, and one of their worries was that their children were going away to high school in Darwin and were being taught that the missions were bad. And they said, “Well, we don’t want our children taught that because we don’t think the missions were bad at all” – and they wanted to write a book that told the truth, the good and the bad side of missionaries and all that, and how they appreciated the missionaries, how the missionaries had protected them and so on. And they were annoyed that school curricula were emphasising the negative side of missions.
But that’s, of course, in the north when the older missionaries are still in living memory. When you come back down here, Daniel Matthews and people like that are not in living memory, and what is in living memory down south in particular are things like the children’s homes, and where children of the Stolen Generations were raised and so on. And so there is, of course, a very, very negative view about missions.