Arthur Malcolm, a stocky Aboriginal man, was in tears as the cavalcade drove towards Yarrabah Aboriginal community. It was October 1985 and the Yarrabah people were cheering him as he returned to the community as their new bishop, the first Aboriginal bishop in the Anglican Church.
In White Christ, Black Cross Noel Loos interweaves his own more than twenty years’ personal experience with Yarrabah and other Queensland Aboriginal communities along with the voices of Aboriginal people, missionaries, and those who sat in the pews and on subcommittees and Boards in the cities, removed from the reality of the missions.
Loos embeds the historical influences and impacts of the missions in shaping Christianity in Aboriginal Australia in the reality of frontier violence, government control, segregation and neglect.
Aboriginal people on the missions responded to white Christianity as part of their enforced cultural change. As control diminished, Aboriginal people responded more overtly and autonomously: some regarding Christianity as irrelevant, others adopting it in culturally satisfying ways.
Through the Australian Board of Missions, the Church of England sought to convert Aboriginal people into a Europeanised compliant sub-caste, with the separation of children from their families (Stolen Generations) the first step. However, increasingly the Church found itself embroiled in emerging broader social issues and changing government policies.
Loos believes its support of Ernest Gribble’s exposure of the 1926 Forrest River massacres indirectly set off the current ‘history wars’. Nowadays, Yarrabah, one of the old mission communities, has become a centre of Christian revival, expressing an Aboriginal understanding and spirituality.
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