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Rosie and the Rich Man: An Australian Parable

Tuesday, 28 November 2023  | Travis McHarg

Once, years ago, a family lived in Gosse Street in Central Australia. From time to time an elderly Aboriginal woman, when hungry, came and sat on the back lawn. She lived over the river in a camp in the bushes and rocks behind a school. She was Rosie, with the classificatory (skin) name of Napaljarri of the Warlpiri people north of Alice Springs. With her limited English she told me she grew up on Coniston Station.

On the corner of the street there was an excellent white house with manicured hedges. The owner was a kindly retired pastoralist of wealth and substance. He grew better grapes than we did so he used to drop around a supply, and if he met up with the lady of the house walking down the street, he gave her a lift in his fine Mercedes Benz.

From my estimate of the age of Rosie (she would not know her age), I thought she would have been a young person when massacres took place on Coniston station in 1928. I did not press her for her recollection of the ‘killing times’, as Aboriginals call them, but she may have seen some of the work of the police party and may even have seen her parents shot.

The man on the corner was educated and had been in the Northern Territory for over sixty years. He had ‘gone bush’ to work with the cattle. In time, the good things came his way and he became rich. However his sometime head stockman recounted being told of an occasion when one night a spear came through the rich man’s mosquito net. He was unwelcome on that country. Next day he took his rifle and shot two indigenous men and burnt their bodies. And he ‘never had any more trouble with Aboriginals’ on that country.

The rich man’s cattle ate the native foodstuffs on which the gatherers depended. The rich man’s cattle drank the water on which the people depended. The rich man, like us, benefitted from the Aboriginal land on which the cattle tramped and on which we live. When hungry, Rosie, perhaps a survivor of the ‘killing times’, came and sat on the back lawn, and there, a little way up the street, was the rich man in his fine house — perhaps a murderer of her people.

Rosie died and the rich man died — to appear on that day when every nation, race, language and tribe are judged.

Is this a parable of Australia, the rich man in his home and the beggar on the grass? They asked for so little – recognition and a voice – and it was too much; it will be a sandwich on the grass. The ‘people always get it right’ is corrupt nonsense; it was not right. Remember the people who cried ‘crucify him’ — they had the numbers.

Lord, remember not our offences, nor the offences of our forefathers; spare us, good Lord, spare your people whom you have redeemed with your precious blood.

Spare us, good Lord.

(The Litany AAPB, p. 98.)

Travis McHarg
was a public servant in the Northern Territory in the 1970s and 1980s. He is an occasional dabbler in art/photography and church history who belongs to South Croydon Anglican Church.


Image credit: Kata Tjuta / Mount Olga, Central Australia. Photo by Travis McHarg.

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