This Sunday marks the end of NAIDOC week – a week when, as Brooke Prentis reminded us, we celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Someone we, as a church, would want to celebrate is Uncle Graham Paulson (pictured below with Auntie Iris). Over lunch last Sunday, Brooke spoke about the role Uncle Graham had played in her life, inspiring and encouraging and mentoring her, and many other emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian leaders. She expressed regret that, in her view, his contribution to Baptist history and theology and life has not been given the recognition it deserves.
It is an extraordinary contribution. Uncle Graham studied to become a Baptist minister when he was still subject to the Aboriginal Preservation and Protection Act, an act some have suggested was adapted by South Africa for apartheid. “Under the provisions of the Act,” Graham said in a 2004 interview, “a policeman had authority to arrest me without a charge, if he saw fit, and place me on a penal settlement without a trial and without letting my family know. After the 1967 referendum attitudes were changing, but the authority was still on the books.”
The Act was finally changed in 1972, four years after Graham was ordained, the first ordained indigenous Baptist minister in Australia.
Uncle Graham served with the Baptist mission agency – ABMS/Global Interaction (so growing up I first knew him and Auntie Iris as my missionary ‘aunts and uncles’!) They served at Lajumanu and Wave Hill where they worked with the community that led the Wave Hill walk-off. In the 1970s Uncle Graham was involved in negotiations with the Fraser government in what are known as the Makaratta Talks – said to be the closest that we have come to a treaty between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.
Having worked in ministry for over 50 years in remote, rural and urban contexts, Uncle Graham also has an incredible depth of knowledge of Indigenous culture and, as one of our premiere Aboriginal theologians, has contributed substantially to exploring what it means to be truly Aboriginal and truly Christian in a post-modern Australia.
And in recent years, even as his health has been failing, he has continued to nurture and teach the next generation.
Perhaps our contribution to NAIDOC 2020 could be to see Uncle Graham Paulson honoured for his lifetime of loving God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind and loving his neighbour.