Oodgeroo of the tribe Noonuccal, Custodian of the land Minjerribah, Peace Prosperity and Healing, Sacred Treaty Circles

An open letter to Peter Kennedy and the congregation of St. Mary’s South Brisbane

Posted in Aboriginal, Australia, Church, history, indigenous, invasion, Oodgeroo, reconciliation, sovereignty, treaty by John T. on February 15, 2009

from Sean (a.k.a. John Tracey) of the Oodgeroo of the tribe Noonuccal, Custodian of the land Minjerribah, Peace Prosperity and Healing, Sacred Treaty Circles.

For those who do not know me, I am a long term resident of West End and have been a treaty member since 1989.

This letter has been written in consultation with the elder of the Oodgeroo Sacred Circles, Bejam Denis Walker who has asked me to publish my considerations, however it represents the opinion of myself only and for which I take full responsibility.

I am concerned to have read in the media that Peter Kennedy has described the assertion of Aboriginal sovereignty as a matter of symbolism. According to many current media reports he has said…….

“While the indigenous claim of sovereignty may be legally uncertain, the symbolic gesture was “very powerful”, Father Kennedy said.”

It seems that perhaps Peter may not have fully understood the treaty he has signed if he considers Aboriginal sovereignty to be legally uncertain and symbolic.

To describe assertions of sovereignty as symbolic directly undermines those assertions.

Bejam has served on the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane a proclamation of Sovereignty and a Notice of Want of Jurisdiction. In international law, Common law, commercial law and Aboriginal customary law these are legitimate and legal statements that can underpin a range of very real court actions relevant to St. Mary’s and beyond. They are not a symbolic ambit claim but a real instrument of law.

The only uncertainty about Aboriginal sovereignty and customary law is in the illusions of the Queens law, which by way of its underpinning of Terra Nullius is itself way beyond legally uncertain and exists only as a pirate regime in this country. There is no uncertainty about the legality of customary law nor the illegality of the Queen’s law.

There is nothing symbolic in the survival of customary law in the face of brutal attack from the Queens law.

I have seen the St. Mary’s treaty, which is a contract between Peter Kennedy and Bejam Denis Walker.

The terms of the treaty obligations of St. Mary’s are explicit – to provide assistance to “The Agenda” which is a clearly defined list of activities – https://treatynow.wordpress.com/the-agenda/

In the last month I have attended two meetings at St. Mary’s, called by Bejam to begin the process of assisting “the agenda”. In both cases the meeting was cancelled because nobody from St. Mary’s turned up.

If St. Mary’s remains so busy fighting the Catholic hierarchy or doing business as usual that it does not have the time or headspace to properly deal with the treaty and customary law then it cannot make any claim to being a part of the treaty or customary law process with any integrity, even if they do appropriate the symbols of these things into their own liturgical self identity and their fight with the Catholic hierarchy.

For nearly thirty years The Oodgeroo treaty process has been a real and non-symbolic instrument of Aboriginal customary law. In all that time it has very rarely gone public, as 95% of customary law is private family business. For St, Mary’s to now sign a treaty in such a high profile way and then neglect the obligations of the treaty and describe Aboriginal customary law as mere symbolism is tokenism and a betrayal of the principles of the treaty process.

St. Mary’s appears to have, to date, simply adopted the symbols of Aboriginality to confirm its own needs and agenda.

After the 1967 referendum, Oodgeroo said….. “Looking back, the only major improvement has been the 93% ‘Yes’ vote of the referendum of May 1967; but this improvement did not benefit the black Australians though it eased the guilty conscience of white Australians in this country and overseas.
It can be regarded therefore as a victory for white Australians who formed a coalition with black Australians. Black Australians must be seen as stooges for white Australians working in the interest of white Australians.”

If St. Mary’s are serious about being a part of the real law of this country then they need to abandon their own white, self centred illusions of their symbolic role in the Aboriginal struggle and the symbolic Aboriginal role in the St. Mary’s struggle. Simply applying Aboriginal symbols to a white agenda is an empowerment of white illusion, not Aboriginal law and power.

Symbolism and tokenism without substance and action is just a manifestation of mainstream white psychology that embodies a basic disconnection from the reality of this country’s history and contemporary circumstance, a basic inability to be conscious as to the nature of the country and our place in it.

Symbolism and tokenism allows the pirate invader consciousness and historical reality to remain unchallenged and unchanged. Symbolism is just cosmetic trimmings around the edge of white power. Kevin Rudd used Aboriginal symbolism in the apology, but this did not necessitate any change in his racist and paternalistic indigenous policies.

To even begin to deal with Aboriginal oppression or any other issue including ecological survival, non-Aboriginal Australians must somehow transcend the impotence of symbolism and manifest in historically real ways – or else the momentum of the status-quo is uninterrupted..

The treaty process is about direct engagement with, and assertion of, a real and certain Aboriginal law that by the grace of Oodgeroo and Bejam has been offered to non-Aboriginal Australians to participate in. This is a real and non-symbolic alternative to psychological and civic adherence to the illegal pirate law of the Queen or of the Catholic Church.

Jumping ship, so to speak, from the pirate invader law and psychology into Aboriginal customary law necessarily requires the abandonment of the illusions of the pirate invader matrix and an embrace of the reality of customary law. Without embracing the historical reality of customary law, right here right now, then we cannot leave the pirate ship, we must cling to its security for our own existence. Raising the Aboriginal flag on the pirate ship is meaningless tokenism that only adds to the illusions of that pirate ship.

The details of the St. Mary’s treaty are clear, the philosophy and law of Oodgeroo and Bejam are clear, the desperate need for the empowerment of customary law is clear but as long as St. Mary’s deals with these things in symbolic and tokenistic ways then they are just another manifestation of the disconnected psychology and law of invader consciousness.

I urge St. Mary’s to go back to the drawing board, read the treaty they have committed themselves to and then get down to the business of fulfilling their obligations to the treaty and customary law.

Then and only then can the St. Mary’s community begin to be educated in Aboriginal law and perspective through direct engagement in that very real historical process. Then and only then can they be in communion with Aboriginal people rather than run the risk of becoming opportunistic users of Aboriginal people

Abandon the consciousness of symbolism, Get Real!

1 Corinthians 4: 20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

Sean, a.k.a. John Tracey


14 Responses

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  1. […] Welcome to the St Mary’s web. This site is the online presence of the community who gather at St Mary’s Catholic Church in South Brisbane Australia.We also invite you to join us in our commitment to the Sacred Treaty Circle Read the latest response to this action from Sean (a.k.a. John Tracey) of the Oodgeroo of the tribe Noonuccal, Custodian of the land Minjerribah, Peace Prosperity and Healing, Sacred Treaty Circles: An open letter to Peter Kennedy and the congregation of St. Mary’s South Brisbane […]

  2. Andrew J See said, on February 16, 2009 at 8:18 am

    I think I may have been to blame for indicating to Peter that my legal view was that the documents were likely to be seen by the courts as “symbolic”. Having said that, it was well recognised and accepted that the claim represents the pursuit of a moral and ethical entitlement. My concern was that it appeared post Mabo (1992) that there could be some counter argument, that the indigenous communities have embraced the native title processes under modern Australian law, and now could not also argue that this same law did not apply. For that reason, the meeting I attended concluded that the answer for remedy possibly lay in legal and political reforms and a stronger unified call for the issue to be addressed by the indignenous and non-indigenous communities.
    I am aware of the article in the Aboriginal Law Bulletin [1989], “The Walker Case the Applicability of Non-Aboriginal Law to Aborigines” and note that twenty years on, there still is no clear way forward that can secure the results that your tribe seek. As was mentioned also at the meeting, it was unclear what sort of right the Noonucal tribe would have to seek rent payments from the Catholic church at South Brisbane. I was also instrumental in cancelling one meeting, so I apologise if this may be one to which you were referring. I think you will find that the St Marys people are 100% behind the claim, the difficulty is trying to find the right legal minds to determine how best to proceed in securing the results that are sought. You have written a very powerful letter and made your position quite clear. Bring it on Sean.

    Andrew See

  3. John T. said, on February 16, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Hello Andrew,

    I am not a Noonuccal, I am a Treacy from Tipperary.


  4. Andrew J See said, on February 16, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Its a long way to Tipperary, Sean.
    The start of the blog said you were from Straddie

  5. John T. said, on February 16, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    No, it says I am from the Oodgeroo Treaty Circles

  6. Andrew J See said, on February 17, 2009 at 4:05 am

    Thats cool . It is too long a sentence
    Peace Brother

  7. John T. said, on February 19, 2009 at 3:50 am

    “Rome must go – St. Mary’s stays”
    by Gary MacLennan, Brian Laver, Sam Watson, Bernie Neville & the ISE

  8. Karen Jones said, on February 20, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Dear Father Kennedy

    Thank you for restoring my faith in the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. In every sense of the word you truly are a spiritual, compassionate gentle man of the people. A rare thing indeed.

    Wishing you all the very best of blessings and peace always

    Karen Jones

  9. […] A contrary view on some of the local issues here and here. Comment (1) | […]

  10. Rebekah Copas said, on February 23, 2009 at 8:35 am

    There is an undercurrent in this discourse, like much of the academic style discourse which exists about issues of Sovereignty. An undercurrent which is about white guilt. One white fellow, is saying of another white fellow, (note that I am a white fellow also here), that his signing of the treaty might not have been as intellectually comprehensive as it could have been, because of the use of the words “symbolic gesture”. Perhaps for one white man it is a symbolic gesture, while for another white man it is a “significant commitment”, and that difference is very real and must be respected. Yet both have signed. Both have been through the same behavioural motions, and perhaps even similar postures, with holding a pen in hand and signing a piece of paper. Within the system of legislative justice, under the Parliament which declares its sovereignty need be upheld and employs police to uphold it, that act of signing a piece of paper is the same for both men regardless of distinctions between one man’s comprehension and another man’s.

    Yet within the Sacred Treaty Circle, a different Sovereignty is honoured, upheld, respected, and obeyed. It is an older, and more powerful Sovereignty, which obviously in this case, is not exclusive of behaviour like signing on the dotted line. The fact that a discussion like this can even take place, is testimony to the fact that the Sovereignty of Bejam outlives, encompasses, surrounds, and assimilates, the Sovereignty that invaders claimed for the British crown.

    Last year, a man from N.T. visited Brisbane, and he told a Sovereign story. A story by which other Sovereign owners of the land now called Australia, can recognise one another. Vince Forrester told the story of the Seven Sisters, at a public meeting, and he told that the capability to give the story voice is the sign of a Sovereign owner of land. Well, I already knew the same story, because once I had found it in a book. Some of my ancestors are Jews, and so the whole literary tradition is a significant aspect of my own ancestry; and is an aspect which enabled me to dream the pattern of that story only by reading it. I did not know any story of the significance of the Seven Sisters then yet. After a while, I began to find information from within the modern paradigm of science which verifies the Seven Sisters. It is obvious really, if you know the story, that when the scientists say that all human beings can be traced to have the maternal genetic ancestry of one or more of seven original mothers, that they are only just beginning to discover what Aboriginal Australia has long known. They also say that Aboriginal Australians are the only entire race of people whom already had all seven “genetic markers” of ancestry, well before modern immigration and intermarriages. I found myself beginning to tell these things, and also how fitting the story of finding the right stories, into my own life, as it began to fall into the patterns of the Seven Sisters. The part I want to tell, is about how the oldest sister has a dilly bag with magic in it, and she asked the youngest sister to take care of it awhile, warning her not to lose it. The youngest sister is careful, but then wants to go for a swim, and being very careful, because she does not want to lose it in the water, she takes it off, and leaves it on the river bank. But when she is getting out of the water, she sees men have stolen it. The older sister tells her never mind, because the magic of the dilly bag will work through it having been lost, until it is found again.

    Perhaps it finds itself again before it knows what it is, or who it belongs to. If Australia had nobody making work like the Sacred Treaty Circles, where would the magic find its way back in again.

    Yet we tend to find ourselves still grappling with that white guilt far too often. As white people, we want to defeat one another by pointing out which of us have been less racist than others. Worse still we at times like to point the finger at the racists and shame them saying it is not us, we are the good ones, the ones who sign treaty. Well let me tell you now, how much white guilt it took swallowing to be able to find my way into reality again well enough to tell how I feel in the story of the Seven Sisters. I have swallowed my whole ancestry, including the white men who may have raped black women; I have swallowed more than it is possible to account for within one life cycle, and have swallowed the story in which my sons lives are bound well into the future, into the work of re-establishing real culture and real landcare, and real belief in life. Yet within the story we have for ourselves, I, and my sons, simply love life all the more for having accepted its truth.

    Don’t let white guilt swallow you, just be yourself, feel it, and accept yourself for what you are. Whether signing with pen on paper, is a symbolic gesture, (as symbolic as marking the sand with a stick perhaps?), or is a significant commitment, (as significant as life itself), the first step we must all take is to just swallow that we are what we are, whatever it is we are.

  11. John T. said, on February 23, 2009 at 10:21 am


    Guilt is the puss that prevents a wound from healing.

    Guilt is an irrational emotional state that manifests in both perpetrators and victims of violence.

    Guilt and denial are the same thing, an escapist psychological construction detatched from the reality of what has or is happening.

    Symbolism is an escapist psychological construction detatched from the reality of what has or is happening.

    I certainly do not intend to provoke guilt, for in doing so I would be disabling the healing process, for no guilt-ridden person will have anything meaningfull to offer. It is only when they can directly connect and understand and identify with the healing process can they can be of any use to it.

    All my challenge is, is to get real. Get out of symbolic consciousness and get down to business, which requires much more than signing a piece of paper or a church service celebrating the signing of a piece of paper.

    Those who feel guilt, and there are many in the catholic church who have internalised guilt as a spirituality, probably cannot get past symbolism, it is just too hurtfull to allow the issues into their real life.

    But those who are motivated by a pro-active love and compassion are a wasted resource if they are contained by the box of symbolic action. It is these people at St, Mary’s and elsewhere to whom I issue my challenge.

    See also my response to your similar concerns on the Terra Nullius and Ecology thread.

  12. Rebekah Copas said, on February 28, 2009 at 10:03 am

    You are making an important point about how symbolic action cannot replace real work.

    However, it is best to be careful not to cut ourselves out of access to the world of symbols, symbolism, and symbolic meaning, because much of the medium through which our real communications take place, is the medium in which we have habitual mental patterns being constantly triggered by symbols.

    Once sombody told me how to differentiate between a “sign” and a “symbol”, and also the point had been made that within the human anatomy and physiology, older ways of medicine, have the same differentiation, but between “signs” (of health or ill health), and “symptoms”.

    The question is, for example, if we see a representation of water in a painting, we are observing a symbol, and it is through the genuine feelings of the Artist, which they experienced whilst painting, and directed into their action of painting, that we discern whether they symbol for water is truthfully representing water.

    In respect of what anybody involved in the Saint Mary’s situtation, may or may not have said about the symbolic action of signing the treaty document, underneath the surface, it is the story of real feelings in which a symbolic gesture, might or might not be interpreted as simultaneously being an act of committment.

    I suspect that Father Peter Kennedy is quite consolidated in his commitment, yet not always able to avoid using the sort of language which the majority of Catholics may prefer him to. If we go accusing him of not being committed, only because he used the word “symbolic”, then we are shooting our own cause down in flames.

    The real debate, is not about Father Peter Kennedy’s individual degree of committment to the Treaty document he has signed, but rather the timing of the Catholic Church taking action against him for his alterations to the liturgy. Having read how he changed the liturgy, I know that there is real cause for theological dispute with the words he was using; and yet, he had been using those words for a considerable length of time already, and the Catholic Church did nothing to prevent him, not until after he signed the Treaty.

    We might also all do well to consider the total set of pressures on Father Peter Kennedy, to be bound up with how the police are empowered to act against the Treaty work, within the Anti-Terrorist Legislation, which has a special clause for Aboriginal Australians, proving that the Government was already making legislation outside of the racial discrimination act, prior to the intervention.

    Perhaps there was a time when the whole of that anti-terrorist legislation might have been able to become defined as symbolic gestures, but nobody seemed to have bothered to organise to highlight the related human rights issues, except for many of the legal profession; that is, not until the police had already become more organised and consolidated in their use of otherwise unlawful strategies. The anti-terrorist legislation effectively enables the police to operate as organised crime infrastructure against anybody they might suspect of wanting to repudiate the sovereignty of parliamentary democracy and legislative justice.

    It is good to point out where we can all learn to use words more accurately, and also point out how word usage patterns often belie insideous failures to agree with and commit to really worthy activity; but we need to simultaneously be wary of overly focussing on what words can falsify.

    Guilt and denial, being “escapist psychological construction detached from the reality of what has or is happening”, and Symbolism, being also “escapist psychological construction detached from the reality of what has or is happening”, is not the same as saying that belief in symbolic gestures is what happens when guilt was over-emphasised. Although, perhaps that might also be true in the case, but I don’t know.

  13. Rebekah Copas said, on March 1, 2009 at 1:22 am

    Having slept the night now, upon the comments in the previous post, I want to add a little further, even at the risk of being able to be accused of having myself bogged the discourse about Father Peter Kennedy’s express belief about his having signed the Treaty document, in another discourse about the utility of semantics. I think the two issues must be kept distinct in our minds.

    In respect of debating semantics, in the relative worth and evaluative social controls of word meanings (eg symbolism/symbolic/symbol versus significant/signatory/sign), all debates tend to come down to one basic debate, about whether there can be such a thing as an absolute singular meaning of any word. I believe that it is a real phenomenon that words can sustain absolute meaning, but I know of many whom disagree.

    The debate goes like this: if we cannot define permanently, that yes means yes, and no means no, (or that the future is the future and the past is the past, or long is long and short is short, or false is false and true is true), then we undermine our own immediate capacity to ever communicate. Clearly, long and short are relative terms and need to take meaning from context and the comparison of short with long. Many similar words exist, in which meaning is defined as being in relationship with another meaning. The fact of words meanings not existing in a vacuum, is the basis of why anybody ever attempts to dispute real meaning. However, in the case of yes and no, is we ever suppose that sometimes no meant yes, or yes no, then we might as well be trying to define absurdities such as belief in the Earth orbiting two suns, or belief in God being a chick.

    There is another point of veiw from in which to accept the debate about the utility of semantics, which is less bound up with the linguists and those Masons whose passtime is connected with “hermetics”. (There is another word they use to define the way that they attempt to apply symbolic meanings to individual words, as though able to culturally defy what anybody intended to express in words such as reconciliation: there are two branches of how Rosicrucian Lodges of Masonic Temples engage in that, one is through “theosophy” and more related to turns of phrase, while the other is a very directly semantic process of leading everybody astray about word origins.) (Bear in mind here that “hermetics” itself might not ever be considered a real word, but is made up by occultists, and not in most dictionaries; but that there is an older science, recorded by the Jews, in which consonent sounds are known to sustain a singular unchanging sensibility to absolute meaning, and from that comprehension, is derived the understanding of hermeticism, by which the symbols of the major arcana of the Tarot, can be equated in sequence with the letters of the English alphabet, and provide some true level of interpreted meaning to those with an honest approach to studying words by that technique. The difficulty we all face, thus, in dealing with the semantics of English usage, and just ordinary communication with English words, is that English words started to be recorded in dictionaries, through a historic process connected with the legislators, and also connected with King Henry the eighth wanting distance from Rome, and thereby linked back to earlier Englishmen’s efforts to make multiple copies of the Bible written in the language of the land in England, rather than enabling the clergy to alienate the masses by their use of latin. The history has seeds of real and strong positive intention we need to use as our own tool, those of us whom agree with the motivation of making the Bible accessible; however, the history is also bound up in the involvement of legislators among Masons, and how dictionaries were first brought into the world, through extremely political processes. In England, there is far more variation in how any word is pronounced, than there is variation in the pronunciation of English words here in Australia, except perhaps for among indigenous people whose first language is another. I have heard many folk speaking in English dialects in England which I had no possibility of comprehending, making their dialects (Glaswegian in particular), almost a different language. All those variations of the sounds of language, had to be condensed into one agreed way to spell every word, when they began to make dictionaries, and that agreement in how to spell, became the basis for the accent in which educated people speak English. That is to say, that the English words, spoken by the majority of Australian citizens, originated often in their sounds, from a political process of decisions about how to spell each word in the dictionary. Given all that information, it is obvious then that Traditionally Oriented Aborigines are all the more accurate in their summation that English does not qualify for being its own definition of the word “language”. That is, most traditionally oriented people I know, believe that English is a set of ugly words and not a language at all, and I tend to agree, despite being stuck with these ugly things.)

    So now, with that lesson in mind, I might better be able to expose the other idea about debating language, which I have come across. There is an idea that such a thing as a “Universal Language” exists, and within which meanings are absolute, unchanging, and real. When we “speak in tongues” (like the example about Pentecost in the New Testament, in Acts, where folk spoke in tongues because they did not have a language in common, but each person comprehended in their own language by hearing their own words with their inner ear, when their external ears heard the gibberish of folk speaking in tongues), we are engaging in the process of absolute expression. What we express in that trance like state in which we speak in tongues, might not be totally accurate to our whole set of knowledge, but will always be accurate to the immediate state of being of our biology through which we are a biological filter for the universal will to communicate. Interestingly also, the sounds of the bush and the ocean, and animal voices in particular, are obviously also all expressions in universal language. Why else is the Kookaburra called a Kookaburra? From this point of view, we can side step the linguists, to realise that the revitalisation of indigenous languages is a very real event.

    An event which can equitably also sidestep any debate about the utility of semantics, by simply refusing to be written. Perhaps therefore also, this writing about such, is quite useless.

  14. […] gesture of support an aboriginal tent embassy might lend their cause, it seems that some are less than impressed that such a significant act of sovereignty is being taken so trivially by the co-signatories to an […]

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