The Australian, letters, 5 March 2001

Carers acted in good faith ONE can understand how the emotive use of words like "stolen" can produce a sense of alienation and suspicion such as that expressed by Margaret Gunter (Letters, 1/3). But how can it justify accusations of venal self-interest when, historically, people acted for the welfare of others, often with bravery and self-sacrifice?

It is a common enough form of abuse to claim that churches are motivated, like competing corporations, if not for money then for the currency of "souls", in this case, in regard to the so, called "stolen" children. Ms Gunter writes the culprits were "firstly the churches involved in sectarian competition who were desperate to receive converts from any source".

When I was a teenager I boarded with the family of a minister and his wife who had been a nurse. As a young couple they had served as missionaries in Arnhem Land in the 1930s.

I believe I got to know them well enough to understand their motivation, which was neither competitive nor desperate, and to know that they would have nothing to do with any currency of souls. They simply did not think in those terms, and they were honest people. They worked with a local population of Aboriginal people In their original environment, dispensing medicine and teaching them as well as they were able.

In later years I got to know a former missionary who had worked as superintendent of a settlement where half-caste children were taken. He told me, before the issue had become a matter of major public debate, that he believed it was a mistaken policy and morally wrong, though he was only responsible for the care of the children after they had been received.

I know him well enough to know that his motives and self-understanding were nothing like the mean calculating and venal desires attributed by present day critics of the practice which he came to believe was wrong, but in which he did his best for those placed in his care. As for aligning the churches with Margaret Gunter's second culprit: "the wealthy and politically correct who believed that they knew best and, In an alliance with the churches, used their wealth and power to Impose their views on society", it makes little sense, historically, but gains some credibility in the present context.

Where church leaders in recent times have confused a secular ideology of progress with the gospel of Christ there has been some readiness to allow faithful servants of the past to be maligned in the interests of supporting "the victims". But, generally, the wealthy and the culturally dominant, whether or not they use the language of political correctness, share the same contempt for the churches as do alienated critics who would impugn the motives of those who sought to serve their brothers and sisters without regard to colour, social theory or profit.


Wesburn, Vie