Former national chairperson of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), Rev Rronang Garrawurra, was honoured on Wednesday night as a finalist for the 2016 Northern Territory Senior Australian of the Year award.
Mr Garrawurra was one of four finalists nominated for the award. The senior category recognises those over the age of 65 who continue to make a difference to Australian society.
Crosslight readers will be familiar with Mr Garrawurra, who appeared on the front page of Crosslight in April last year.
An elder from North East Arnhem Land, he spent many years building reconciliation between First and Second Peoples.
In 2007, the federal government implemented the Northern Territory Intervention as a response to the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ report. They deployed military forces into remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, suspended the Racial Discrimination Act and partially removed the permit system to Aboriginal land.
During his time as national chairperson of the UAICC, Mr Garrawurra was active in leading the Uniting Church to speak out against the Intervention and the subsequent Stronger Futures legislation, which continued many of the discriminatory policies of the Intervention.
He was also involved in a public vigil held outside Parliament House in Canberra last year. The vigil was part of A Destiny Together, a week of prayer and fasting for justice for First Peoples. It was the Church’s public expression of grief at the racism and injustice suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Approximately 300 people from the Uniting Church gathered outside the lawns of Parliament House for the historic worship and prayer service.
Mr Garrawurra is notable for shining a spotlight on social justice issues, including Indigenous rights and Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers.
In an interview with Shankabout this year, Mr Garrawurra expressed his disappointment at the lack of government consultation with First Peoples in the asylum seeker debate. Shankabout is a blog that captures the stories of everyday Territorians doing extraordinary things.
“We are the First People, and as First People, it upsets me that we haven’t been asked for our input on any of this,” he said.
“Should we be consulted, as we should – as Indigenous people, the first people of this land, we would think carefully about the problem, and offer our own solutions.
“[People seeking refuge] should be given their freedom, they should be welcomed here.”
Mr Garrawurra also brought considerable theological capacity to the UAICC, particularly through his ability to integrate cultural insights and the gospel. He was concerned to see the development of Indigenous theology, not just for First Peoples but as a challenge to the whole church.
The Northern Territory Senior Australian of the Year award was presented to Bob Shewring for his work in repatriating Australian soldiers who were buried overseas following their deaths in the Vietnam War.
Will MacGregor was named 2016 Northern Territory Australian of the Year for helping local youth tackle drug and alcohol addiction.
The recipients from each state and territory become the finalists for the national Australian of the Year awards. The national award winners will be announced in Canberra on Australia Day Eve next year.