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A voice for those who don’t have a voice

Aunty Alex Garter
Reverend Aunty Alex Garter

The Reverend (Aunty) Alexandra Gater

I am a strong Aboriginal woman, a proud Aboriginal woman. I am honoured that people would call me Aunty and that I have earned that respect from the work I’ve done in the community, the prisons and the courts.

I am like a voice for those who don’t have a voice. I thank God that he gives me the boldness and the courage to stand up for what I believe in - justice and equality! And for us all to be treated as equal.

Early life

I have faced many obstacles to get to where I am today. I was born in Brisbane and raised in Cherbourg, an Aboriginal community about three hours out west of Brisbane.

The policies that past governments set up saw our Aboriginal people forcibly removed from their tribal lands and taken to various places around Australia. My family - both my mum and dad’s side - were forcibly removed and taken to Cherbourg.

Family heritage

Both sides of my family were very instrumental in shaking things up. I come from a family of achievers who were well known and highly respected for the valuable contribution they made.

My grandmother was a social worker and ran a soup kitchen for the people of Cherbourg. She was also a founding member of the Anglican Church in Cherbourg. She instilled the love of God in our family from an early age.

My grandparents didn’t share about the hard times they went through - we had to read about it later. On the mission our lives were controlled. We had our freedom and identity taken from us.

Continuing the legacy - motivated by faith

I have continued that work of caring (from my grandmother) and want to pass that on down to my children and their children. Just last year I organised a family reunion and there were 6 generations of family together!

All my strength comes from the Lord and when I think of my elders I know that they are always with me - I feel their presence. It keeps us going, knowing that that is where our strength comes from. They laid a foundation and planted seed and sowed. The Lord did the rest. We grew from that.

Throughout the Bible there are many verses that speak of a great change. Isaiah, Jeremiah and Amos… so many verses. These prophets paved the way for change. They laid the foundations and when I think of them, I think of my own people. Strong Aboriginal people... we are a spiritual and a peaceful race of people. A sharing caring race of people.

My faith is strong and it is my faith in the Lord and my strength from the Lord that keeps me going on a daily basis. When I wake up in the morning I wonder what the Lord has planned for me. Will people come here or will I go somewhere?

Work as a prison chaplain

In the prisons I give spiritual support and take memorial services. I give the boys spiritual support in death and in custody. We have prayers, perform baptisms. Also, I mentor them. We sit in a circle and I invite them to come and we would all share. We would open in prayer, acknowledge the past and the custodians of the land and go around the circle and ask the boys to identify themselves and I find that when I talk to the boys they listen.

They say “Aunty I will speak. I want to thank you for coming to us. Thank you for caring”.

I see the other side of these boys knowing that somebody has hurt them in their lives and they have been hurt. Some have been abused. Lots of things happened when the children were taken and put in foster homes.

I really believe in the power of prayer and healing. Some men how have left the jail and said to me after “Aunty I want to thank you for what you have done for me.”

I find that the boys trust me and they open up and then I pray over them and I say this is not your fault. And they say, “Thank you Aunty I feel free.”

A lot of people leave their work at work, I don’t. When I go to the jail I bring it home with me. When I take a funeral, I take it home with me. I feel their pain. I want to make a difference in someone’s life. The great joy I have when, no matter where I go, my husband and I are constantly stopped.

“Hello Aunty Alex”

“Where do I know you from?”

“Remember me Aunty? When I was in jail you helped me.”

That makes me feel so fulfilled. That is my reward.

Message for the church

I would ask the church, ‘what are you doing for the Aboriginal people of Australia?’ Come sit and listen. Let’s work together to break down barriers and work together in partnership. We are called to do the Lord’s work. Let’s work together to bring about change so that there is future. Let’s put something in place for the next generation. They don’t have to go through what our ancestors went through and what we went through. Come sit, listen and learn.

What can the church do? We need prayer. But we need action. Actions speak louder than words. I have had many [personal] supporters and I thank everyone who has been on the journey with us. There are many. Too numerous to name.

My dream for my people

My dream is to see Aboriginal people acknowledged and respected. In the Aboriginal prayer (referenced below) we say, “we make a home for everyone in our land”. But for the people who come here, they need to acknowledge and respect the Aboriginal people of this land.

Prayer of the Aboriginal People

Father of all, you gave us the Dreaming

You have spoken to us through our beliefs

You then made your love clear to us in the person of Jesus

We thank you for your care

You own us

You are our hope

Make us strong as we face the problems of change

We ask you to help the people of Australia to listen to us and respect our culture

Make the knowledge of you grow strong in all people

So that you can be at home in us and we can make a home for everyone in our land.

Amen.

Prayer composed for the meeting between Pope John Paul II and the Aboriginal people.
Ref: http://acmlismore.org.au/pray/prayers/prayer-aboriginal-people/

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With 27 years of experience as a prison chaplain, The Reverend (Aunty) Alexandra Gater has spent much of her life as an advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.