Day of Mourning (Australia)

Every year on the Sunday before Australia Day, the Uniting Church marks a Day of Mourning to reflect on the dispossession of Australia’s First Peoples and the ongoing injustices faced by First Nations people in this land. All congregations and communities are encouraged to mark the Day of Mourning in worship (in 2022 it’s on or around Sunday 23 January) as an expression of our commitment to covenant, truth-telling, justice and healing.
We celebrate the strength, survival and resilience of First Peoples.
We pause and reflect on the truth and pain of our history.
We lament the violence, dispossession and trauma faced by First Peoples and our own complicity. We hear in this day a call to action that joins us with First Peoples in the ongoing struggle for justice.
We give thanks to God for our covenant with the UAICC – Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, as together we seek a shared future for First and Second peoples marked by costly truth-telling, justice and reconciliation.

The 2022 Day of Mourning resource is now available. You are encouraged to register your worship and share stories, reflections and photos:

The Day of Mourning allows Australians to stand together in remembering the truth of our history and honouring the culture of Australia’s First Peoples, their families and the next generations. The 15th UCA Assembly in July 2018 endorsed the proposal that the Sunday before Australia Day be declared as a Day of Mourning. The proposal was brought to the Assembly by our sisters and brothers in the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), and was endorsed in the spirit of our Covenant relationship with the UAICC. The Day of Mourning Worship Resource invites all Uniting Church in Australia congregations to hold worship services that reflect on the effect of invasion and colonisation on Australia’s First Peoples and our identity as a nation.

It may also be helpful to look at resources on this website for Australia Day, Reconciliation Sunday and NAIDOC Week.

God of all wonder,
We pause in the busyness of our days to listen deeply to the wisdom of this land and those who belong to it.
May our minds be open to dialogue,
May our hearts be open to transformation and
May our hands do the work of reconciliation.
We ask that the Spirit accompany us on our journey of healing on these lands, seas and waterways; We also ask the Spirit of peace be with all those who are living a life of fear, dispossession and distress. We make this prayer in the name of Jesus our brother and friend. Amen.
(Source: Catholic Education)

Prayer of Adoration and Confession
SONG: Bless the Lord my soul TIS 706
Bless the Lord, my soul, and bless God’s holy name.
Bless the Lord, my soul, who leads me into life.

God of new mornings, who listens steadfastly for our prayers,
Forgive us for thinking that we have to be powerful or strong to make a difference in the world.
Show us how to sustain your daily gift of life with gentleness and care,
Lead us to new understandings as we seek to sing the song of our maker.

Jesus, who lifts up the downtrodden,
Forgive us for the times we have abandoned hope because the task seems too great for us.
Remind us of the effect that even small gestures can have on others,
And guide us as we try to walk your path of kindness.

Holy Spirit, constant presence of love,
Forgive us for when we have clung tightly to unhelpful ways.
Help us to have faith that you will stay with us when we fail and change direction
Encourage us to be creative and try new ways of being, even as we feel vulnerable and unsure.

Word of Grace
Believe the good news that comes from God: Christ came
that we may have life, and life in all its fullness.
Through Christ, in Christ, and because of Christ, our sin is forgiven.
Thanks be to God.
(Source: Amelia Ware, Brunswick Uniting Church)

Time of Confession
Now is a time for confession for Second Peoples’,
whilst acknowledging the presence of any First Peoples here today.
Today we pray in the words of Brooke Prentis, let’s pray:
God of Holy Dreaming, Great Creator God, Papa Jesus,
Today we pray together on common ground.
Common ground of an ancient land that you created.
Common ground of over 65,000 years of peoples and place.
ALL: Lord, we are longing for acknowledgement.
We acknowledge that your creation was disturbed and disrupted in 1788.
We acknowledge our failure to break the Great Australian Silence.
We acknowledge the true history of the land now called Australia.
ALL: Lord, we are longing for truth.
We grieve the truth of statistics that show we are not equal.
Truth of death, sickness, imprisonment.
Truth of lack of education and lack of employment.
Truth of a gap that isn’t closed.
ALL: Lord, we are longing for justice.
We seek justice for Stolen Land, Stolen Wages, Stolen Children.
We seek justice for yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
ALL: Lord, we are longing for love.
Today we stand together on common ground.
We come together in the love of Christ and the love of our neighbour.
We confess we have not loved one another as you have called us to and promise to do better.
We long to embrace unity with diversity.
We are longing for acknowledgement, truth, justice, love, and hope.
ALL: Lord, give us
comfort for the pain, in our day of mourning,
courage for the fight, in our day of invasion,
strength for the journey, in our day of survival.
Lord, You, are our hope.

Declaration of Forgiveness
God of Grace, we acknowledge before you all that needs healing in us and in our land.
Hear our prayer, grant us the forgiveness that empowers change.
In the name of Jesus, compassionate healer. Amen.
(Source: Brooke Prentis)

Prayers of the people
God of Holy Dreaming,
Lord Jesus Marrkapmirr,
Great Spirit in this ancient land.
We pray for the land of the world:
Land which has been, and is, the subject of colonisation,
Land where ownership is contested,
Lands where war rages,
Lands where desecration takes place.
Land has been, and is, at the heart of so much violence and destruction.
We hold these places before you God of Holy Dreaming
as we act for justice and peace.
We pray for the Churches of the world:
Churches that have too often been seduced by power,
Churches with good intent but destructive practices,
Churches that have focussed on telling, not listening.
May we walk with you Lord Jesus Marrkapmirr,
as we learn how to listen to First Nations peoples and be their allies.
We are a community of many hands, with many gifts and needs.
We hold these before you now.
Move among us Great Spirit in this ancient land.
May we live and work together in your love,
listening for the Wisdom of the Elders and the Land. Amen.
(Source: Kirsty Bennett, Brunswick Uniting Church)

And so we mourn
But we must also mourn for all of the todays
and yesterdays and forever times
And so we mourn
And so we acknowledge
But we must continue to thread those moments,
not see them as isolated moments or fleeting moments of acknowledging
And so we mourn
As we gather
As we invite
As we challenge
As we unlearn and learn
and so we mourn
Those moments must become an ongoing narrative
– entrenched in the life of who we are as a UCA and a UAICC
A pulse of who we are
And so we mourn
But to be part of the mourning is to allow an invitation into the healing ….
What’s healing look and feel like for first peoples in the context
of church , of church polity ,
of how we shape and weave the covenant ,
shape and weave our own truth telling ….
And so we mourn
And so we heal
And so we act
With intent in the healing process
We cannot just mourn together we must heal together
Not be content with broken threads of mourning and healing
But be the basket of healing that comes from digging deep into the layers of the mourning
(Source: Alison Overeem 2022, Facebook post on Walking Together as First and Second Peoples – UCA)

Response from Rev Denise Savage:
May we mourn together, sit in lament, hold hope and step towards healing. What struck me as the words ran through my head was again the affirmation that Second Peoples have to acknowledge we are in need of healing too in this story. That our brokenness has brought pain and anguish in the past and today for First Peoples. We do need to heal together – may Creator continue to take us, call us and step with us on this work.
Response from Carol Bennett:
Mourning, lamenting and stepping into healing is a healing circle in itself. It is like a spiral that moves us ever forward. The mistake some make is to think that healing is a linear process, that one “sorry” is all that is needed. I appreciate Alison’s ability to focus on the healing while teaching us the importance of ongoing mourning and lamenting.

Closing Prayer
God of all creation, as we journey together in this Great Southern Land, We pray for healing, forgiveness, and unity,
Creating a path of good will, with justice and compassion.
Jesus, through the power of your love,
You have given us the courage, wisdom, and strength
To share our gifts and talents in humility.
In peace and understanding we reconcile with each other.
Creator Spirit, we come together in prayer and thanksgiving
For the many blessings we have received.
Allow your Spirit to wash over us and give us strength to walk together as one.
(Source: Aboriginal Elders and Reconciliation Church staff members (2014) Catholic Education)

(this was originally written for the Referendum 2023, but could be a good prayer to end the Day of Mourning service)
Dear Lord
We pray for a bright and just shared future for all who call Australia home.
We ask that Your grace of acceptance and compassion will guide us.
Let the Creator Spirit lead our journey with the
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of this land.
May we share Your Spirit more deeply; celebrate the gifts You have given us.
Help us appreciate true harmony and peace just as our Old People did;
Keep us strong, make us resilient and remember us in this time.
Now is an opportunity to change our Nation’s history for the better
Walk with us as we write a new chapter together and may we be one in Your love.
(Source: Djabugay/Olkola woman Sherry Balcombe of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry)

A reflection for Day of Mourning 2020 by Joan Wright Howie (Habitat UC, Melbourne)
As Australia Day approaches, the Uniting Church has been asked by our Assembly to hold a Day of Mourning. We were asked to use a liturgy prepared by the Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and investigate the local history of First Peoples in our area. I started with the 1980’s lyrics of a song by the Australian band Goanna, Solid Rock, Sacred Ground. 
‘They were standin’ on the shore one day, 
Saw the white sails in the sun
Wasn’t long before they felt the sting, 
white man, white law, white gun’
‘Don’t tell me that it’s justified, 
’cause somewhere, someone lied
Yeah well someone lied, someone lied, genocide
And now you’re standing on – solid rock
Standing o-on a sacred grou-ound
Living o-on borrowed ti-i-i-ime’
In his book: ‘Life Selected Writings’, Tim Flannery comments on Australia’s history. He writes of the time before the Europeans sailed across the ocean and set up colonies in this country in his 2002 essay called ‘The passing of the Birrarang’. I draw on the information in his essay in what follows. 
This word Birrarang might be familiar to you. 
There is a park called Birrarang Marr in the city just near Federation Square. Birrarang is the original name of the region where Melbourne now has developed. 
If we could travel only 200 years back in time, the country would appear very different from what we see now … 
John Murray sailed past the bay in 1802 and named the waterway beyond. He described a beautiful bountiful region. He described ‘billabongs and swamps teeming with brolgas, magpie geese, swans, ducks, eels and frogs. So abundant was the wildlife that we can imagine a kind of temperate Kakadu with the Yarra River flowing through the region over a waterfall…what was once located at the foot of Market Street in the City.’ (Flannery 2002)
The people who lived in this country knew their Creator. They knew of Bungal, the Creator Spirit who flew like an Eagle down the river valley. So when they heard the words of our Christian scriptures they sensed a resonance with the Creator they already knew about and the deep peace that springs up from country, from the ground: 
‘Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
Creator will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.’ (Psalm 85)
The early settlers came to this country and wanted the land to yield its increase, just like the Psalmist said. But they did not see or respect that the country was already inhabited by others who already knew about the yield of this land that springs forth when righteousness and peace kiss each other. They were already in the land. 
There was a moment when John Batman in 1835 attempted to make a treaty with the locals. He is said to have traded land for trinkets. The local tribes had no sense of land ownership, and are unlikely to have thought that they were selling their country, rather trading access to the land.
As Melbourne developed Batman sold the land he thought he had acquired to settlers who assumed they owned their patch and started clearing and building, farming and running stock that destroyed the land of the First people. 
It is quite telling that ‘the first, so-called criminals, to hang in the Melbourne jails were Aboriginal. Yet of all the massacres, rapes, and poisonings that marred that time, not a single European was brought to justice.’ (Flannery 2002)
Derrimut, a local tribal leader, told a local magistrate of the land that once belonged to his people having being taken away and destroyed. He points to all the land along the Yarra River that once belonged to his people. 
‘You see Mr. Hull, Bank of Victoria, all this mine, all along here Derrimut’s once. No matter now, me tumble down soon…You have all this place… me tumble down and die very soon now.’ (quoted by Flannery 2002)
‘A fragment of his vast tribal estate’, writes Flannery, ‘was returned to him when he was buried in the Melbourne Cemetery. The generosity of the city even extended to a headstone.’ (Flannery 2002)
1837 near the Botanic Gardens, there was an aboriginal settlement created, but it was only 3 years later when the land became too valuable and they were relocated to a place near Narriwarren. 
This was a disaster for the tribes as it was used as a recruitment ground for the black police who used to hunt other aboriginals. 
Later they were moved Warrandyte and Mordialloc, both settlements failed. Next 23,000 acres were allocated on the Goulburn River where the people prospered for a time until the land became too valuable and was sold to the whites. 
In 1859 the remaining Woorawang people requested land Acheron River in Central Victoria, but this attempt at independence also failed because they were pushed further downriver to less attractive land due to hostility by white squatters. Eventually, that site too was abandoned. 
Flannery tells us ‘A brief halt to this hideous tale of greed, dispossession and official incompetence occurred in 1863 when Coranderrk reserve hear Healesville was gazette for Aboriginal use.’ (Flannery 2002)
The 200 remaining people from the once 5 Melbourne tribes established a successful community. They developed a business growing hops where they even won prizes at the Melbourne agricultural show. But once more the land was taken out of black hands in 1886 all people of mixed blood were ordered to be removed which destroyed Coranderrk. 
William Barak was a boy when Batman landed and the last leader of that Aboriginal community. 40,000 years of Aboriginal occupation in the Melbourne area had come to an end. When William Barak died in1903 only a small number of the Victorian Aboriginals remained. We pay tribute now to the survivors. Those elders past present and emerging. 
‘While Melbourne’s environment of pristine wetlands and birdlife as was on its way to oblivion, the land was purchased by whites and it’s valued was booming.’ (Flannery 2002) There was a frenzied at auctions where people became rich as land was bought and sold. Gold was discovered and the city was built on the wealth of the earth. A bridge went across the Yarra in Hawthorn and people came with their gold money to build these grand churches we now inhabit. Big houses for the wealthy and cottages for the workers… The Aboriginal people nowhere in sight. 
In the churches of Melbourne’s east, I am a minister. Back then as we do now, people read passages from the bible calling them to love. They would have heard Paul’s words in his first letter to John when Paul was encouraging desperate communities to learn to live in harmony: If God is Love, then people must live lives reflecting God’s love. Paul says that ‘Love is perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment because as God is, so are we in this world.’(1 John 4: 17)
If God is love, and we are called to live as God loves, then surely, if there is to be a day of judgment, we will be judged by the extent to which our lives reflect God’s love. 
When we hear what happened to the original inhabitants of the Birrarang, Melbourne, I am left wondering how the early European settlers made sense of this call to love. I wonder how we can justify our wealth, built on stolen ground. 
The First People were certainly not treated with love. Paul says ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.’ (1 John 4: 18)
Perhaps they sat in these churches full of fear, and their fear cast out love. They did not love the Aboriginal people of this land, but feared them, cast them as ‘other’ dangerous to be despised and destroyed. 
But when Paul calls us to love he says we ‘love because God first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.’ (1 John 4: 20)
We have no choice but to confess and lament those early settlers of Melbourne did not consider Aboriginal people their brothers and sisters. In fact, they were not even considered human, with no basic human rights, they were considered part of the flora and fauna of this country. Our forbears sat in this church and hated their black brothers and sisters. Are we liars? 
The commandment we have from God is this: ‘Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also’. (1 John 4: 21)
How does knowing the story of our countries’ history impact how we hear the scripture? 
Until we tell the truth, there is no hope for reconciliation, there is no hope for the love of God to abound in our communities. 
Will we continue to choose to do what our ancestors did and ignore the Aboriginal presence in the country? Will we continue to count only those with white skin as our brothers and sisters? 
Perhaps the psalm will help us as we pray:
‘Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.
Let us hear what God will speak,
for God will speak peace to all people,
and all those who turn to God in their hearts.
Surely God’s salvation is at hand and the glory of the great Creator Spirit may dwell in our land.’ (Psalm 85)
Let us lament with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. As Australia Day approaches, let’s tell the truth, and let us love one another.
(Source: Rev Joan Wright Howie, Habitat Uniting Church, Hawthorn, Melbourne)

A different context (USA) but some really important insights from a white pastor in this article, The Apology Every White Christian needs to give to Black America.

A sermon by Rev (Deacon) Sandy Boyce for Day of Mourning 2022, using the Gospel reading from Luke 4:14-21:

Two Dreamtimes
(For Kath Walker, now Oodgeroo Noonuccal)

Kathy, my sister with the torn heart,
I don’t know how to thank
For your dreamtime stories of joy and grief
Written on paperbark.

You were one of the dark children
I wasn’t allowed to play with –
riverbank campers, the wrong colour
(I couldn’t turn you white.)

So it was late I met you.
Late I began to know
They hadn’t told me the land I loved
Was taken out of your hands.

Sitting all night at my kitchen table
With a cry and a song in your voice,
Your eyes were full of the dying children,
The blank-eyed taken women.

The sullen look of the men who sold them
For run to forget the selling;
The hard rational white faces
With eyes that forget the past.

With a knifeblade flash I your black eyes
That always long to be blacker,
Your Spanish-Koori face
Of a fighter and a singer.

Arms over your breast folding
Your sorrow in to hold it,
You brought me to you some of the way
And came the rest to meet me;

Over the desert of red sand
Came from your lost country
To where I stand with all my fathers,
Their guilt and righteousness.

Over the rum your voice sang
The tales of an old people,
Their dreaming buried, the place forgotten…
We too have lost their dreaming.
We the robbers, robbed in turn,
Selling this land on hire-purchase;
What’s stolen once is stolen again
Even before we know.

If we are sisters, it’s in this –
Our grief for a lost country,
The place we dreamed in long ago,
Poisoned now and crumbling.

Let us go back to that far time,
I riding in the cleared hills,
Lucking blue leaves for their eucalypt scent,
Hearing the call of the plover,

In a land I thought was mine for life.
I mourn it as you mourn
The ripped length of the island beaches,
The drained paperbark swamps.

The easy Eden-Dreamtime then
In a country of birds and trees
Made me your shadow-sister, child,
Dark girl I couldn’t play with.

But we are grown to a changed world;
Over the drinks at night
We can exchange our separate griefs,
But yours and mine are different.

A knife’s between us. My righteous kin
still have cruel faces.
Neither you nor I can win them,
though we meet in secret kindness.

I am born of the conquerers,
You of the persecuted.
Raped by rum and an alien law,
Progress and economics,

Are you and I and a once-loved land
peopled by tribes and trees;
doomed by traders and stock-exchanges,
bought by faceless strangers.

And you and I are bought and sold,
Our songs and stories too,
Though quoted low in a falling market
(publishers shake their heads at poets).

Time that we shared for a little while,
Telling sad tales of women
(black or white at a different price)
Meant much and little to us.

My shadow-sister, I sing to you
from my place with my righteous kin,
to where you stand with the Koori dead,
Trust none – not even poets”.

The knife’s between us. I turn it round,
the handle to your side,
the weapon made from your country’s bones.
I have no right to take it.

But both of us die as our dreamtime dies.
I don’t know what to give you
for your gay stories, your sad eyes,
but that, and a poem, sister.
(Source: Judith Wright – poet)

‘If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together’.
(Source: Lilla Watson, Aboriginal elder, educator and activist)

Why Lord O why? – sheet music here.

How shall we sing? (Craig Mitchell, David MacGregor)

How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in this strange land?
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in this strange land?
This endless desert
These golden sands
This blue horizon
These green islands
How can we sing the song?
How can we sing the song?

How shall we hear God’s story
of this strange land?
How shall we hear God’s story
of this strange land?
This timeless dreaming
These rocks and bones
This wisdom people
Their ancient home
How can we sing the song?
How can we sing the song?

Come hear a new song
Come hear a new song
Come sing it loud
Come sing it strong

How shall we cry God’s weeping
for this strange land?
How shall we cry God’s weeping
for this strange land?
This broken homeland
These stolen years
Their hidden history
This trail of tears
How can we cry the song?
How can we cry the song?

How shall we live God’s story
in this strange land?
How shall we live God’s story
in this strange land?
With eyes wide open
and gaping hearts
With truthful longing
and stumbling start
How can we live the song?
How can we live the song?

Come sing a new song
Come sing a new song
Come sing it loud
Come sing it strong

How can we bring the Lord’s peace
in this strange land?
How can we bring the Lord’s peace
in this strange land?
With justice raining
When poor are blessed
With love outpouring
From east to west
How can we bring the song?
How can we bring the song?

Come sing a new song
Come sing a new song
Come sing it loud
Come sing it strong

Come sing a new song
Come sing a new song
Come sing it loud
Come sing it strong

lyrics: Craig Mitchell  © 2018; music: David MacGregor © 2018
(Craig’s comments on the background to the song here)

From “Deeper Water” published by Mediacom Education 2021

2021 Day of Mourning service from Pilgrim UC on Pilgrim’s Youtube channel.

2022 Day of Mourning service from Pilgrim UC on Pilgrim’s Youtube channel

2021 resources here.

2020 resources here.

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Rev Sandy Boyce is a Uniting Church in Australia Minister (Deacon). This blog may be a help to people planning worship services.
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