the Heart of Jesus
Beats within us all

All of us from Baabayn Aboriginal Corporation want to thank you for your tremendous commitment to a well organised conference and to the welfare of each one of us.  We were all amazed at how much you as just one person were able to accomplish – both small and big things.  Thanks so much for a wonderful and memorable four days.


Naomi for Daisy, Jenny, Margaret, Rhonda, Kerry, Anne, Helen, Benjali, Karen and Jordan.

Baabayn NSW



We had two young people attend the youth Assembly that were at a cross road in their lives. They were struck by the openness of the young people at the event and their willingness to discuss their faith and culture. They have returned from the Assembly with a renewed sense of faith and in their own words “a new clear direction in life”

Lorraine Tomlins – NT



Just wanted to say a huge thanks for looking after everyone so well at the Assembly last week. An amazing experience for my team from CEO Bathurst NSW.

Mrs Leanne Clarke

Assistant Principal

St Mary's Catholic School



I wanted to thank you from all of our Mob. I want to pass on my congratulations to Craig and all of the Committee for a well organised event. We had the most wonderful time and you look after all of us so well.

What a wonderful event!!

Sr Kerry McDermott – ACM Minto



It was a fantastic gathering and our Armidale Diocesan participants had a truly spiritual experience.  Thank you for the work you did in making it all happen.

Sharon Cooke

Aboriginal Education Consultant

Catholic Schools Office




NATSICC 2015: Reunion in Darwin

(Article written for Baabayn by Helen Dunstan)


Over two hundred were expected. Over three hundred came. Aboriginal people from the length and breadth of Australia, many of them from Aboriginal Catholic Ministries. Needless to say, there was a contingent from Baabayn: the four directors, two other adult members, three young people, the volunteer administrator, and the present author. It was an inspiring gathering, with much sharing of experiences old and new.


NATSICC stands for National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council, and this was its triennial National Assembly. It was a gathering of people of faith, and much of the formal program focused on worship, that is, what it means, or could mean, to worship God in an Aboriginal way. An underlying theme, however, was identity. In one way or another, speaker after speaker affirmed the importance of being who you are and being proud of it.


Perhaps the best thing about the Assembly was the atmosphere—the sense of people reconnecting, being glad to see each other, respecting radical difference (for example, that between people maintaining traditional lifestyles in rural communities and those participating in big-city culture) but affirming the belongingness of all. Music enhanced the togetherness. There was the spontaneous joy with which everyone joined in the Aboriginal “Our Father”; the moonlit circle of people dancing to the gently beautiful solo singing of a woman from the Northern Territory who accompanied herself on the guitar; and the spirited rendition, complete with miming, of the Christian rock song “My Lighthouse” in which the young people, led by an enthusiastic Emmanuel Worship group from Brisbane, led the whole Assembly.


What came through very clearly from speaker after speaker was that the 1986 gathering with Pope John Paul at Alice Springs, three years before NATSICC began, was a cherished foundational moment in the history of Aboriginal Catholic spirituality. His speech in Blatherskite Park was cited repeatedly for the encouragement it offered to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Indeed, the respect and understanding for Indigenous Australians that His Holiness expressed still rings out from his text today. Most relevant of all to the purposes of this assembly were the following assurances:

The Church invites you to express the living word of Jesus in ways that speak to your Aboriginal minds and hearts. All over the world people worship God and read his word in their own language, and colour the great signs and symbols of religion with touches of their own traditions. Why should you be different from them in this regard, why should you not be allowed the happiness of being with God and each other in Aboriginal fashion?


One highlight of the formal program was the showing of a recently discovered recording of the historic Australian Aboriginal Mass celebrated in 1973 at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne. This featured Aboriginal music, singing and dancing, with a large choir and percussion accompaniment. There was a dance-mime of the Last Supper by a group from Bathurst Island, dancing according to Port Keats tradition at the presentation of the gifts, and a lively dance of celebration at the close. The spoken words were also adapted; for example, God was praised for making “the kangaroos, the goannas, and the birds for us.”


There were a few people who had contributed to the singing and dancing in 1973 who were present, 42 years later, at the 2015 NATSICC gathering. We all applauded enthusiastically when a copy of the recording was presented to each of these veterans.


We ourselves were to participate in a Mass very similar to that of 1973 on Sunday 5 July, the first day of NAIDOC week. There was a smoking ceremony first. Again there was Aboriginal music and dancing; again the special words were used, relating the liturgy to Aboriginal values and experience; and—unlike in 1973—the whole of the Aboriginal “Our Father” was sung. All the Aboriginal people whose opinions were sought for this report appreciated the Mass; pressed to identify what had been best about it, one participant said simply “all the Aboriginal input.” She had put her finger on the gathering’s central theme: there was a general wish to see liturgy, particularly the Mass, more imbued with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.


How to infuse Aboriginal culture into the Mass without incurring the disapproval of the Church authorities—indeed, if possible with their full support—was one recurrent issue at the NATSICC gathering. Another was how to accommodate diversity, both among Aboriginal communities in different parts of Australia and as between Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, whose customs can differ sharply. The identification of these issues will make possible the further conversation needed to formulate a strategy that will be acceptable across the spectrum of practice and opinion.


The complexity of these issues was conveyed by a stimulating presentation by Vicki Clark, from the Melbourne ACM. She showed video clips from the second National Aboriginal Mass, held in Melbourne in 1993—and of some of the non-Aboriginal people who criticized it. Vicki, who was present at the Mass, stated that the atmosphere had been “wonderful,” the dancing beautiful, and the homily a valuable call to action. What upset the critics was the sight of young Aboriginal people in Western dress singing modern-style music to the sound of guitars. “Bastardization,” one non-Aboriginal critic called it, while a noted French liturgical expert found the phenomenon “regrettable.” Vicki’s comment on this was concise—she referred to change as part of life, to the fact that “we’ve moved on since 1973.” Perhaps underlying the 1993 performance was a different, but equally important and valid understanding of Aboriginal identity. Aboriginal people are heirs to a proud cultural heritage, but they are also who their modern survival odyssey has made them. That includes responsiveness to the guitar.


Not all the formal sessions focused on liturgy. There was a wide range of parallel workshops from which participants could choose. These workshops explored topics and issues such as “The Aboriginal World View,” how to combine “being Indigenous” with “Being Catholic,” “Aboriginal Education in Remote Australia,” various ministries and initiatives in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, child safety, and supporting the liturgical

Miriam Rose spoke to us about ‘Dadirri’…the importance of quiet listening.


participation of people with disabilities. Presentation styles varied from professional jobs supported by Powerpoint slides, brochures and hand-outs to the facilitation of yarning about personal experience. Inspiring stories were told in answer to Benny Hodges’s question “What does it mean spiritually to be an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic?”; a year-12 student bore living witness to the effectiveness of the three-year IMPACT program in preparing young Indigenous people from the Northern Territory for successful completion of high school, positive engagement with contemporary social issues, and leadership for change.


. It should not be thought that the assembly was all work and no play, all solemnity and no fun. On the Saturday the adults were let loose to explore Darwin. While the Parap market attracted many, one high point of the day was the chance to visit Darwin’s beautiful cathedral (and the simple memorial of the bombing of Darwin that lies in its grounds). Stained glass is used to masterly effect in this cathedral, and among the many pieces of stained-glass artistry is the Bishop O’Loughlin Memorial Window, which comprises eight outstanding paintings by Aboriginal artists of the Northern Territory.  The designs, transferred to the glass through digital printing, use rich symbolism from the artists’ own cultures to convey aspects of the Christian faith. The prominence of this window, along with other Aboriginal artworks such as the cross photographed on the right, illustrates the receptiveness of some church leaders to the desire—expressed by many at the Assembly—to see more recognition of Aboriginal culture in the sights and sounds of Catholic worship. The gracious presence at the Assembly of priests such as those who celebrated the beautiful Masses testified to that same spirit of respectful openness.


In parallel with the Main Assembly was a Youth Assembly, who had their own activities but joined the Main Assembly for the inspiring keynote addresses by Charlie King and Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, the NAIDOC Sunday Mass and the closing session. The young people had opportunities of attending a range of workshops, such as music workshops with Emmanuel Worship, a “Youth Artspace” session called “Who is God for me?,” and workshops on prayer, “sharing what we know of our culture,” and “being a strong young Indigenous person in the world today.” They learned the dance that they performed at the NAIDOC Sunday Mass; they incurred the envy of some Main Assembly members with their Saturday excursion, which was to Berry Springs; and they contributed one of the best sessions of the whole gathering when they reported back on their experiences.


In that closing session, one of the youth representatives spoke of having learned “more than I ever would in Sydney” about “my culture, my beliefs, myself.” Another said that “What I loved most was seeing everyone come together.” A third looked forward to “teaching everyone at our school all the dances” and “showing them the video” that the young people had made about their time at NATSICC. Some adults who have experience of youth work spoke of the importance of encouraging tomorrow’s leaders, of entrusting them with leadership responsibilities, indeed of standing back and giving free rein to the young people’s initiative. There was talk of how the NATSICC spirit, including the beautiful, “uplifting” singing and dancing, might be shared with the youth of remote communities. There was discussion of practical issues, such as finding funding for young people to come to NATSICC and other youth assemblies. Suggestions were made—a DVD and Facebook page for building the youth movement, while as for funding, “find out who supports NAIDOC to find out who is likely to support you.”


But perhaps the wisest words came from the delegate from the Armidale diocese who pointed out “It’s what the youth could teach us—the power of their music, their stories.” As the young people united the whole Assembly for the singing and miming of “My Lighthouse,” we saw and heard and felt what that could mean.


Baabayn Aboriginal Corporation thanks the generous donors who made possible the participation in NATSICC of the nine Aboriginal people in the delegation from Mount Druitt. It expresses its appreciation of the excellent arrangements made for the Assembly by NATSICC’s organizing committee, the kindness of Elizabeth Burke throughout our stay in Darwin, and the generous hospitality of Kormilda College and its wonderful staff. The banner photographed here graced our meetings in Kormilda’s Cultural Centre, where the NAIDOC Sunday Mass was celebrated.



National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council

'The peak Indigenous advisory body to the Catholic Church'

80C Payneham Rd.

Stepney SA 5069   |   | 08 8363 2963


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