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Our Languages Matter – Celebrating Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander History & Culture

Jul 5 2017

In Australia this week our nation celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. NAIDOC originally stood for “National Aborigines and Islander Day of Observance Committee”. This is now the week, in which Australia celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture, recognizing the contributions Indigenous Australians make to our society.

Interestingly, NAIDOC was pioneered by an Aboriginal Christian man, William Cooper, and was celebrated in many of Australia’s churches before the nation adopted the event.

This year, the theme of NAIDOC is “Our Languages Matter.” All this week, the Sydney Opera House will light up each night with Aboriginal Art.

Last year, Aunty Gail Sellman from the City campus shared the miraculous story of her salvation and life (see link below).

As Aunty Gail says, “Art is part of our language, as are our stories.” Seeing as her story touched the hearts of so many, we thought it would be great to follow it a little more! Here she answers some questions posed by Dr Tanya Riches, one of our Hillsong College lecturers and the Masters degree oversight.

So Aunty Gail, since our NAIDOC post last year, what’s been happening for you?

This year I started working in a lovely organisation in the inner city streets of Sydney. My client base are homeless, so they present with all types of physical and mental health, and addictions of every kind.

But regardless of their current circumstance, they can come in and be medically checked, enjoy a shower, have a feed, get some clothing and rest their weary soul and spirit in a bed with a warm blanket.

I know I am strategically placed at my workplace – I too experienced being homeless from the age of 13 to 17, as well as being deeply drug addicted as a teen. I experienced all types of abuse. So now I’m able to serve, and give out the unconditional love of Jesus to the “unseen” people in our society.

You also have spent a bit of time away … can you tell us a bit about being “on Country” and what it does for your connection with God?

Being on Country is so good for my soul. I always come away refreshed. My Bunda Country is situated very close to the coastline in Queensland, close to the bush and the river as well. It’s where I spent many of my childhood years.

It’s where I recall sitting at the feet of my great Grandma, the great Aunts and Mum. It’s where I would listen to their stories about Jesus. I also learned about being Aboriginal and the responsibility that came with that.

This land is where I have the fondest memories of my first talks with Jesus. For example, when I was 6 years old, I found a secret little bush area near the river that only God and I knew about. I’d talk and sing to Him for what seemed like eternity. Those places are where I go to reconnect with my Dad when I go back home.

I know there’s lots of reasons as to why you need to reconnect with these good memories … can you tell me a little about some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome to walk in the freedom you have now?

Some of the battles I have had to overcome are homelessness and substance abuse, I have had to deal with rejection, fear and abandonment issues, intergenerational family trauma, racism, doing the journey as a solo mum for many years, and all types of abuse one can think of – domestic violence, psychological oppression and emotional manipulation.

What are some of the unique challenges you face being Aboriginal in the workplace and in your general interactions with others?

Culturally, Aboriginal people need to see an “Aboriginal person” in all key areas. When an Aboriginal person walks into any “main stream service”, a hospital, a church, place of employment, it is common for us to ask for the Aboriginal worker, the Aboriginal Pastor. You will find we are on the lookout for an “Aunt” or “Uncle”, “brother” or “sister” to connect with.

The CEO of my work place is a non-Indigenous born again Christian. He has personally taken it upon himself to get educated (with the assistance of myself and other Aboriginal employees) and to be culturally sensitive, to do all that he can do to assist the Aboriginal community. I am privileged to be the vital link between the Aboriginal and non-Indigenous services.

Over the years, I have grown some very thick skin so I am able to be a voice for my Aboriginal clients who have lost theirs: to stand and defend, to be an advocate for them.

Amos 5:24 is the scripture I hold dear for my beloved Aboriginal Australia.

Do you know what I want?

I want justice – oceans of it.

I want fairness-rivers of it.

That’s what I want.

That’s all I want.

Aboriginal people matter to God and my prayer is that it matters to you too.


For some of our readers, what are common misconceptions about Aboriginal people that you face within the Australian church?

Church is fantastic, but it is always a microcosm of society, and we have a cross-section of the community in church. So one could argue the church reflects societal values (Jesus faced the same issues in His lifetime, and in fact was killed by the factions vying for political power in the Jewish religion).

I find it really sad that I have personally faced and experienced some of the common misconceptions about Aboriginal people in the Australian church. I hear that we are lazy, that we only want to be on Social Security benefits, we want something for nothing, we expect everything but do nothing, we are weak people with no character and that we are generally violent, lawless, drug addicts and alcoholics who mistreat their children.

My heart’s passionate cry is for the Australian church to embrace the simple yet profound directive of Jesus ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13:34) and not the views of our society. I understand that we are on a journey and that there’s a lot of work to do!

How do you think non-Aboriginal people can grow in awareness and sensitivity about this issue?

I would encourage every Australian to educate themselves on the mistreatment of Indigenous people in Australia. In naming a few areas, Aboriginal people were only deemed to be citizens of Australia in our own country in 1967. There has been and still is horrific trauma and loss inflicted on the Stolen Generation and their families. My people are arguably the most disadvantaged and marginalised in this country. We should all be uncomfortable with the third world conditions that exist in our own backyard. It’s simply not okay. You only need to travel to local communities, city centres and remote corners across our great nation to see this for yourselves.

We need all Australians to understand what we are facing on a daily basis. Please sit with us. Please have a yarn with us. Please break bread with us. Please pour into us. Please believe in us. Please utilise us. Please pray for us. We are a deadly mob!

There are some amazing Aboriginal people worshiping at Hillsong each weekend – how would you encourage the younger Aboriginal people growing up in our church?

God made you Aboriginal! He looked lovingly at you and said, “you are good”!

He wants you to be a catalyst for change! You have a calling. Be unapologetic about it. You are a born leader, made by design, full of potential, creativity, hopes and dreams!

And darling heart, if you find you are struggling with life’s issues that you have no capacity to deal with, please don’t isolate yourself. Call on Jesus. Keep Him first place in your life. Stay in Gods house. Stay connected within your youth group. Speak with your leaders. Don’t be half-hearted when it comes to God, give Him all your heart, and not just on Sundays.

Aunty Gail believes in you! I’m praying for you! I adore you and if we haven’t met yet, let’s change that!