by Andrea Mason
I grew up in Kalgoorlie in Western Australia and went to school there in my early years. I then moved to Adelaide and did my high schooling there – I spent about 20 years living in Adelaide.
After school I did a degree in Aboriginal Affairs and Public Administration, then I worked for about 10 years in the South Australian public service. Most of my work was around Indigenous empowerment – housing, employment, career development. In 1999 I went back to university to study law, before working in the South Australian parliament with Family First from 2003.
I left in 2005 to work in the Commonwealth public service in Canberra, and had a stint with Reconciliation Australia. I visited Alice Springs in 2008 as part of a work trip and I realised that this was where I was meant to be.
I’d always wanted to work in the bush and to work with my family in Central Australia – even though I didn’t know what the job was going to be, my part was to gather the skills and knowledge so that I could step into the opportunity when the door opened. Fortunately, NPY Women’s Council – a member-led, tri-state organisation formed by the Aboriginal women of the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Lands in the cross border region of Western Australia, South Australia, and Northern Territory – offered me a position.
I moved to Alice Springs in 2008 and started attending the Lutheran church the following year. I wanted to be closer to hearing Aboriginal languages and be part of a community where that was encouraged.
I wanted to be somewhere where we were all attending that service together and sharing that diversity.
I think the one thing that really struck me right from the beginning was the foundation stone of the Lutheran faith, which is the message of grace. In my spiritual life, it’s what I treasure most.
There is a phrase that helps to unpack the differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal culture. It’s said that Aboriginal people are driven by who they are and non-Aboriginal people are driven by what they do.
So Aboriginal people are focused on the being; non-Aboriginal people are often focused on the doing. I acknowledge here that while this is a general statement of the distinction between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, it is also a great starting point to discuss strengths and challenges, including how by being in a diverse community it can help members through genuine relationships smooth out corners and rough edges. So there is a huge value within the Aboriginal community on being present, of listening and of hearing, and of just slowing down, and understanding what matters. There’s also a value in non-Aboriginal people being present to be mentors, teachers and supporters and being willing to share their understanding of different aspects of life, including how they slow down and are present.
But for that to happen, we’ve got to be doing life at the same pace and sometimes the pace of non-Aboriginal people is not the pace of Aboriginal people. For those who do slow down, or for those who speed up, to be at the same pace, there is an amazing synergy that can happen – so one plus one equals three. In other words, we achieve more together than we can on our own.
I have been the beneficiary of that synergy as I have slowed down and spent time with senior Aboriginal women. I’ve become much more of a connected person in listening to and hearing people.
So, what is our place now as Lutherans? Where do we want our future to be? These are quite big questions.
Perhaps we just need people to slow down and, rather than deciding to do things by a certain time, let’s just make sure we speak to everyone who’s got a real interest in where we’re heading.
Aboriginal Lutherans want the opportunity to think about these complex questions and be given the time to do it.
My personal leadership motivation is always towards working with people to create a better community.
Where are Lutherans in this discussion? There are close to 6000 Aboriginal Lutheran Christians in Central Australia, so more Aboriginal than non-Aboriginal Lutherans. Is this an army to do much good or a faith community to serve? Can we have both? How do we fire up both areas?
Should there be plans in place to have greater numbers of Aboriginal Lutherans completing high school, qualifying for a trade certificate and graduating from university?
In our community we would benefit from Lutherans in greater numbers sitting on boards and councils, becoming teachers, rangers, police officers, office administrators, health practitioners and mental health workers. And in family life, having strong marriages and families, inclusive of young men experiencing older men showing them the way, are worthy goals to pursue. In church life, we could consider how many people should there be in ministry, and so on.
I think these questions are critical. Ideally, we as Lutherans should be able to articulate our collective vision and how this connects to the church, the community, to family life and at an individual level.
Our Australian Lutheran story has chapters on how grace and faith entered the lives of Aboriginal people in Central Australia and these chapters have many stories of friendship and companionship.
I believe we are now poised to write new chapters telling the story of how we are relevant to sustaining the spiritual, community and civic life of Lutherans in the 21st century.
The opportunity to live this is in our hands.
Andrea Mason has been the Chief Executive Officer of the NPY Women’s Council, since 2009. She is co-chair for both the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council and for the Empowered Communities NPY Region. Empowered Communities is driving a national reform agenda, Indigenous empowerment is at the centre of it.