Supporting land rights: churches
Certain clergymen and others associated with religious bodies played a key role in publicising the arguments for land rights in 1963. The National Missionary Council identified land as the first of four major issues requiring urgent consideration. The Methodist Commission on Aboriginal Affairs recommended that the Commonwealth government appoint an Aboriginal Lands Commission, and the Society of Friends (Quakers) held a seminar on Aborigines which examined land policy.
Four major issues in assimilation
National Missionary Council of Australia, June 1963
Methodist Commission on Aboriginal Affairs
Methodist Church of Australasia, Victoria and Tasmania Conference, Commission on Aboriginal Affairs, 1967
The Victorian Council of Churches brought Aboriginal people from Gippsland, Warrnambool, the metropolitan area and elsewhere in Victoria to a consultation with non-Indigenous activists. Aboriginal title to land was a key agenda issue. Representatives from the main Christian churches (with the exception of the Roman Catholic Church), as well as the Victorian government, Aboriginal agencies and universities, attended.
At the national level, Frank Engel presented the case for land rights to an Australian Council of Churches meeting in 1965. The meeting passed a resolution to 'encourage public discussion of Aboriginal entitlement to land compensation'.
Land Rights of Australian Aborigines, Frank Engel, 1965
Box 11, Folder 12, Gordon Bryant Papers, MS 8256, National Library of Australia
Barrie Pittock, a Quaker and the convenor of the Legal Reform Committee of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), wrote widely in support of land rights. Along with the Methodist Commission on Aboriginal Affairs, he was also actively involved in developing, on behalf of the Yirrkala Aboriginal people, a legal challenge to the proposed Nabalco mining venture in Arnhem Land.
Many of these writers couched their arguments in moral terms, as did Frank Engel when he praised the South Australian Parliament for showing the way to 'set right a moral obligation'. Aboriginal people were asserting their identity, and it was not yet too late, Engel argued, 'as it may be in the United States, to establish sound relationships between the races'.  The involvement of churches and religious bodies considerably widened the support base for Aboriginal land rights.
1 Frank Engel, Turning Land into Hope, Federal Council of Churches, Melbourne, 1968, p. 16.
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