St George’s Cathedral
Site of Contradiction
Dr Bill Leadbetter, Senior Lay Canon
In the south-west corner of St George’s Cathedral, just inside the door, there is a plaque which states, very simply, ‘We are proud to acknowledge the Noongar people as the traditional owners of these lands and waters’. Above it, there hangs a painting called ‘Oneness’ by a young Yamadji woman in which aboriginal images twine with depictions of the cross.
Yet, as if to contradict these images of reconciliation, at the other end of the nave, and not far from the pulpit, a small block of wood is inserted into the brickwork. The wood is from the jarrah tree under which Christian prayers were first conducted in Perth in 1829. It represents the historic identification of church and colony that pertained for long decades.
Likewise, outside the Deanery, at the foot of the stairs that connect Pier Street to Cathedral Square, there is a plaque recognising the First Nations leader, Midgegooroo, who was executed near that spot. Midgegooroo was killed at the order of the Executive Council, at the head of which was the Acting Governor, Lt Col Frederick Irwin. Irwin also happened to be a principal lay leader of the Anglican Church in Western Australia.
These inconsistencies are well recognised by the Chapter of the Cathedral, as is the need for a coherent response to them. There is an understanding that, in the same way as the Diocese is working towards its Reconciliation Action Plan, so too the Cathedral needs to begin to develop its own.
The Cathedral is a site of contradictions. It carries the weight of the colonial past, but also reaches out to those alienated by that past. Contradiction can be a good thing. It is a sign of the recognition that things do not have to be ‘either/or’ but can be ‘both/and’. That, after all, is the fundamental message of Christian inclusion.