Contact on the Missions

It’s the accepted historical orthodoxy to say that Aboriginal missions were bad. Very bad.

But we must be clear on our terms. What do we mean by a “mission”? It seems that there have been at least three types of places. Those that were
1. Government owned and government run with no Christian influence (Moorundie, Wave Hill)
2. Government owned and run, but with the presence of Christian leadership (e.g. Purfleet)
3. Government owned, but effectively led Christians (e.g. Cummeragunja up until, say 1920)
4. Owned and managed by Christian missionary organisations (e.g. Maloga, Roper River or New Norcia)

All four of these models have their critics, but for very different reasons. But the criticisms that belong to the first rarely belong to the the other three. Yet, frequently, all missions are lumped together. And example of this is the comment of Bruce McGuiness which he made in an issue of Smoke Signals:

“Certainly the Christian Churches must not expect thanks for their missionary activities, even if, as one mission spokesman claimed, ‘If it were not for the Missions there would be no Aborigines.” The proper role of Churches, and of others wishing to serve, is that of the reconciler rather than the self-righteous. However difficult, the task must be to concentrate on the truth behind the complaints and bitterness and the supposed exaggerations, and not to fight for the retention of power and prestige.” 1



  1. McGuiness, Bruce, “Don’t Go it Alone!” Smoke Signals, Vol. 8, No. 3, March 1970

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