The biblical story of Naboth’s vineyard teaches non-indigenous Christians like me how God views the injustice that made Melbourne.
As an increasing number of Australians realize, our nation was founded on the legal lie that the continent was terra nullius, “nobody’s land.” The truth is that Aboriginal people had been living on the lands now called Australia for at least 65,000 years by the time the first Europeans arrived. However, since British law said no one was here, most settlers didn’t bother making treaties.
One exception was John Batman, who was born in Australia to a convict father and a free mother who had paid passage to keep the family together. After encountering challenges trying to access a land grant in other regions, Batman staked out land near Merri Creek, otherwise known as the home of the Wurundjeri nation, and signed a treaty with them that exchanged handkerchiefs, flour, and other supplies for most of what is now Melbourne.
Even if their signatures weren’t faked, the most the Wurundjeri people possibly agreed to was temporary hospitality. They considered the land as something they belonged to, not as a possession that could be sold as under English law.
In the end, it didn’t matter. In 1835 the governor responded to Batman’s treaty with a letter in the king’s name: The treaty was invalid because the land already belonged to the crown. Within a few years, most of the indigenous inhabitants in that region were either killed or forcibly displaced far from their ancestral home.
While the themes in this story show up across Australia’s history, this is the particular story of the land on which I live and work. I first learned about it while preparing to preach on 1 Kings 21 at a church near Merri Creek where the treaty was signed. I don’t often like to compare myself with biblical …