8 December 2023

Bunbury diocese apologises to local Stolen Generation

Pastor Dennis Jetta OAM (left) and Bishop Ian Coutts after the public apology. Picture: supplied.

Jenan Taylor

4 September 2023

A diocese in Western Australia has apologised to a group of Indigenous people for the historical wrongs they suffered, and to which Anglicans might have contributed.

The Anglican Diocese of Bunbury apologised to the Noongar community in the first of its planned series of public apologies to local Indigenous people.  

Indigenous elders, members of other denominations, school students and an Aboriginal medical service were among those gathered at the apology at St Boniface Cathedral hall, last Thursday.

Bunbury Bishop Ian Coutts told them the Anglican Church failed to challenge the unjust government policies that led to the profound loss of connection with family, land, culture and language for Aboriginal communities.

Dr Coutts said the diocese further acknowledged the betrayals and massacres that happened within its present boundaries and during which it was likely that some Anglicans took part.

“All of these acts were not consistent with the message of Jesus Christ who taught love, justice and peace. Nor were they consistent with the second of Jesus’s summaries of the two great commandments, that we should love our neighbour as ourselves,” Dr Coutts said.

Read more: Bible being used to subjugate Indigenous Australians: Pattel-Gray

Noongar Pastor Dennis Jetta said the Noongar population was one of the biggest Aboriginal groups in Australia, and it was significant that they were finally beginning to be recognised as a vital part of the wider community.

Mr Jetta said the Noongar elders challenged all Australians to be brave and tackle the unfinished business of reconciliation, so that there could be change for the benefit of all Australians.

He called on mainstream Australia, including the government and people, to contribute to a greater healing, own the wrong doings of the past, and claim the true history of Australia.

Mr Jetta said it couldn’t be done alone, and needed to be done collectively as one united people.

Despite religious, cultural and racial differences, we can do it together, Mr Jetta said.

Dr Coutts said it was possible that the Bunbury diocese was the first in Australia to apologise to a group of Indigenous people.

Read more: Australians urged to respect elders, past as they look to future

He told The Melbourne Anglican that was based on his understanding that various Anglican leaders had apologised to individual representative Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders at various times since 1988.

It was not known whether other Indigenous people were present on those occasions, Dr Coutts said. 

He said it was important that their pain and suffering was acknowledged far and wide, and that expressing it to a group meant more people would be able to hear it.

Dr Coutts said the apology was part of the diocese’s reconciliation efforts and was a slow, careful process that entailed building trust and relationships with Aboriginal elders and communities.

He said originally the Bunbury diocese planned to hold the public apology in NAIDOC week, but elders requested that it be kept separate from a celebration of Indigenous achievements.

An apology wasn’t an easy thing for Indigenous people to hear because it was triggering for many of them, especially those who were members of the Stolen Generation or related to them, Dr Coutts said.

He said Bunbury diocese’s reconciliation working group was also considering embarking on various written, music or visual arts projects in parish churches to describe some of the experiences of Indigenous people in that part of Australia.

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