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Pastor Doug – a life of partnerships

If anyone had reason to be steer clear of whitefellas, it was Douglas Nicholls. He'd seen respectable policemen take Koorie girls away from his community in Cummeragunja. His recollection, and a report in the Daily Telegraph on 13.2.1929 gave the troubling picture:
One day in 1918, the manager of Cumeroogunga arranged with a Moama police sergeant that the Aboriginal men should be away from the station for a whole day, shooting and trapping rabbits. there was some gratitude expressed at the time, as jobs were short. Since 1909 it had been the Boards policy that men should work outside for most of the year. On the morning the men left for the forest, the sergeant's real interest in the matter was explained, when two poice cars arrived at the station, and two policemen took away a number of girls who were sent to Cootamundra for domestic training at the girls' home. Younger children fled and hid where they could find hiding places–even across the river into Victoria–Pastor Doug Nicholls–thirteen then–crawled in great fear under the floor of the weatherboard school building. When the frightened women told their men that night, they were very angry. Their children bore an abiding fear of the police for most of their lives. Many girls were taken, including one of Doug Nicholl's sisters. 1
But Pastor Doug showed there is great power in turning the other cheek. Of all Aboriginal of the first half of the 20th Century, he was the leading voice to the wider nation.
Doug Nicholls was a bridge across society. I saw it personally, how he could talk to white people, when most Aboriginal people wouldn’t even get past first base. Because of his football prowess and his Christianity, he was able to approach white politicians. 2
Interestingly, he wasn't a separatist, or even an exceptionalist. But neither was he an assimilationist. Nicholls seemed to want Aboriginal people to attain the best of global culture, particularly British culture, whilst maintaining an Indigenous distinctiveness.
All we want is to be able to think and do the same things as white people, while still retaining our identity as a people. 3
What he did do, most effectively, was challenge the residual thought of Social Darwinism, that suggested some kind of genetic backwardness. Doug Nicholls certainly wasn't. And he knew his people weren't either.
Australian Natives are not a primitive people. But a people living in primitive conditions. They are entitled to a better deal than they are receiving from the White man. If given the opportunity, they could fly high, but they have been denied their rights by being kept a race apart. 4
How was Nicholls able to keep both ends of this bridge – at the black side and at the white side – so secure? It was sheer grace. Another minister, Rev Dr Gordon Moyes, recalls him saying:
“The white people have accepted me as a black man. Now I want them to accept other black men. I used to be bitter against the white man, but now I know we have to love one another.” 5

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  1. Jack Horner, Vote Ferguson for Aboriginal Freedom, Australian and New Zealand Book Company, Sydney, 1974, p13.
  2. Bruce Pascoe, quoted in The First Australians, Hetti Perkins, 2008, Six-part TV series.
  3. Doug Nicholls, quoted in The First Australians, Hetti Perkins, 2008, Six-part TV series.
  4. Doug Nicholls, quoted in The First Australians, Hetti Perkins, 2008, Six-part TV series.
  5. retrieved April 26, 2013

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