Time to pay the rent

Craig Schwarze

I live at Camperdown and attend church in Annandale. The original owners of the land beneath my home and my church were a tribe known as the Cadigal. They were not a large group - probably less than a hundred in number. They did not build permanent dwellings, but they lived within definite boundaries. Their land stretched from South Head, across to Petersham, and down to the Cooks River.
Their territory included a place called Warrane, where Arthur Phillip and his First Fleet established their colony in 1788, re-naming it Sydney Cove. Clashes with the new arrivals were inevitable, as the Cadigal were gradually displaced from their ancestral lands. The Europeans had not come to steal the land - not exactly. They had thought it was less heavily populated than it turned out to be, and Phillip was under instructions to form a treaty with any natives he encountered.

But circumstances made a treaty impossible to negotiate, and it was never attempted. After a brief period of dismal conflict, the problem “disappeared” when the Cadigal were destroyed by a smallpox epidemic. The Europeans took full possession of their land, without resistance, without permission and without any recompense offered or paid.

The churches gained from this injustice, and none more so than the Anglican church. Land was marked out for a church soon after the First Fleet arrived. It was to be called St Phillip’s (named after the governor rather than the evangelist), and the modern church of St Phillip’s York St stands near this original grant. Further grants of Cadigal land were made to the church, including 400 acres at Glebe. This practice was repeated all over Sydney and the rest of the country, as European power grew and spread.

Dr Peter Adam recently gave a talk entitled “Australia - Whose Land?”, where he called upon Australians to begin the difficult task of compensating the original inhabitants of our country. Such compensation would, he freely admits, be “costly and complicated”. Dr Adam urged churches to take the lead in this matter, and after much reflection, I feel obliged to echo his call. We cannot preach about justice and righteousness while ignoring the great injustice that has delivered our organisation such extraordinary assets. We have, in the words of Dr Adam, received stolen goods.

What should be done? I don’t have a full answer, and a full answer will not be obtained without much discussion, prayer and soul-searching. Here are two ideas to begin with. First, find out which tribe originally owned the land your church building is on, and put up a notice acknowledging that fact. Second, have your parish council move to allocate 1% of your offering to Indigenous churches and missions.

It’s not much, I know, but it’s a start.