Matt Busby Andrews laments the no-win situation faced by Indigenous elders and Christian missions.
I would say the most painful mistake that the Christian missions ever made was to ever cooperate with the government.
In Umawarra, down by Port Augusta, when the Brethren went down there – and one of the Brethren missionaries is still alive today, Mr Mack – they made the decision that they would take government funding, but the government stipulated, if you take the funding you have to implement our programs – and that means the elimination of language. So when Aunty Maureen, at nine years old, was taken by the welfare man in the black car to Umawarra, that was the end of her daily speaking of her language.
If you go to Warburton in Western Australia, they were faced with the same decision. Christian missionaries and Christian indigenous elders were faced with the question of, well, don’t we need to educate our kids; what are we going to do about that? But they made the decision, do you know what, A. O. Neville, forget your money, forget your program, we’re going to keep our language. And you can go to church in Warburton today and you can sing praises to God, you can pray to God in local language. However, there was a cost. They don’t have the health expectations in Warburton that they have in Umawarra; they don’t live as long, but they have their culture and, in a way, they’ve got their pride.