Tales from the Table

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Our household, Indigenous Hospitality House, has just published a book. Tales from the Table gathers together a range of things that our household have been learning as Settler (non-Indigenous) people sharing our home with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, on stolen land.

While the practical part of our mission is providing hospital accommodation, we also recognise that we have a role to play in helping Settler people rethink Australian and Christian identity in light of our colonial history. We hope that this book can help extend those conversations into the wider community.

You can buy a copy at our web store here. If you want to drop in and pick up your copy you can save on postage. And you can stick around for a cup of tea and a chat.

Creating an ‘Australian’ D&D setting is problematic


The last two weekends I’ve posted some illustrations of some Australian creatures which could be used in roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons: a fey possum and some extinct megafauna.

However, I think it’s problematic to think of creating an ‘Australian’ setting for D&D. I think any setting that seeks to portray Australia in any honest way needs to be shaped by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories. While D&D is a fantasy game, it is clearly set during a medieval period, and I think it’s dishonest to protray an ‘Australian’ setting inhabited by the European characters that often have dominated high fantasy.

There are some discussions online where folks have shared ideas for an ‘Australian’ or ‘Aboriginal’ setting, but they come across to me as ignorant and cringeworthy. When I was reflecting on this, I couldn’t put my finger on what it was and I wasn’t sure if it was just me.

I decided to reach out to Timothy Wood, author of Australi, on Twitter. I asked about how they’ve gone about portraying Aboriginal societies in their comic. Tim said he’s not Indigenous, but that they’ve been working with folks who are. He was saying that he thinks stuff often comes across as ignorant and embarassing is because folks who are taking ideas from Indigenous cultures don’t actually care for the subject matter. I think he’s right. It often seems like people are just raiding someone’s culture for ideas that seem cool or interesting.

Ryan Griffen, creator of Cleverman, said that he went through the process of being initiated so that he could learn stories that inspired the show. But even then he didn’t retell the stories he learned, because that would be disrespectful and would destroy the trust that elders had placed in him:

Aboriginal protocols are complex to navigate, and informed much of our process. We could sit in the writers’ room and come up with something amazing that hit all the genre beats to make a great hour of television, but if it crossed the line of what we can say and do around Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal stories, then we had to revise our thinking. These are protocols put in place by Aboriginal elders who passed the stories over to me for the show. They put their trust in me and the team, and that was one of the biggest breakthroughs that enabled us to go ahead with the series. The elders were trying to achieve something very special that would help to keep our culture growing.

– Ryan Griffen, ‘We need more Aboriginal superheroes, so I created Cleverman for my son’, The Guardian, 27 May 2016

So I would remain hesitant about the idea of trying to create an Australian setting. But if there are any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander folks around who are into roleplyaing games, I’d be interested in getting in touch.


There’s a discussion of this post on reddit here.

Getting it wrong

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On Friday I wrote a post about a Wandjina painting I saw in Brunswick, and why it doesn’t belong there. My friend Jen asked whether there can be space to ask dumb questions and make mistakes as we seek to work as allies of other groups. It can be easy for us to just keep quiet and refrain from acting because we’re afraid of doing the wrong thing. My experience has been that more often than not folks do give us space to get things wrong and to make ignorant mistakes. As a Settler Person seeking to be an ally of First Peoples I’ve often gotten things wrong and I’ve generally been corrected and forgiven if I’ve been open to being corrected and if I’ve been open to deepening our relationship. I think many of us carry some culutural baggage that says that we can’t get things wrong, that our peoples always have to get things right. It’s a hangover from believing our race and culture were superior to others. I think that is something we need to loosen our grip on.

Wandjina in Brunswick?

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On Monday I saw a Wandjina painting. There has been a lot of controversy over Wandjina paintings. When I found one in Brunswick I had mixed feelings about it. It is good to have a reminder that we are on Aboriginal land, but Wandjinas aren’t local to this area. Wandjina are sacred to the Mowanjum people from the Kimberly. When Settler people have portrayed them in Perth and the Blue Mountains it has caused a lot of grief for the Mowanjum people. I hope that whoever has painted this one is encouraged to find out more about the Wandjina and about why it should be treated with reverence.


If you want to find out more about the backstory, I’d recommend watching Who Paintin’ Dis Wandjina?

The Corporeality of the Resurection

Yesterday I spoke at Moreland Baptist Church in Brunswick, not far from where I live at the Indigenous Hospitality House in Carlton North. In the liturgical calendar Easter actually goes for several weeks, so we were continuing to reflect on the story of Jesus’ execution and resurrection. In the story we read, from John’s gospel, Jesus mysteriously appears among his friends in the middle of a closed room, still bearing the marks of his execution. He breathes on them his executed-and-resurrected breath, telling them that they have the power to forgive sins or leave them standing. No flames above the disciples heads like we find in the book of Acts. In John’s account, God’s Spirit is the breath of the executed-and-resurrected.

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Jesus’ friend Thomas misses all this and doesn’t believe it. He says he needs to see it for himself, to even touch the scars in Jesus hands and put his hand inside the hole in his body. Jesus turns up for Thomas’ benefit and challenges him to do exactly that.

Many people in our society today also find it hard to take the accounts of the resurrection seriously because of a lack of any material, corporeal evidence. However, I think there is actual corporeal, material confirmation of the resurrection out there. I have experienced it in the welcome and hospitality I have received from our First Peoples, despite the poor track record of Settler people. It is bodily because it has taken the form of shared food and drink, shared shelter in the bad weather, a hug of welcome. This is the forgiveness that the resurrected Jesus talks about.

I also see confirmation of the resurrection in the witness of Leo Seemanpillai. Leo
came to Australia as an asylum-seeker, and was living in Geelong when he received the news that his application for asylum had failed and that he would be returned to Sri Lanka. He feared that when he returned he would be killed, and in despair he took his own life. In his death Leo Seemanpillai returned our cruelty with generosity. He was registered as an organ donor. One of his eyes, one of his lungs, his kidneys and his liver were given to people who needed them. In a very material way, Leo Seemanpillai lives on in Australia, in our bodies, helping us to see, cleansing our bodies and giving us breath. This is the kind of forgiveness that the breath of Christ gives. This is not just as an illustration, an allegory or a parable. This is serious and it is real, and we need to take time to consider what it means.