John Flynn and Charles Duguid: contested narratives of the Inland.

Author: Emily Hayes

Hayes, Emily, 2023 John Flynn and Charles Duguid: contested narratives of the Inland., Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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“Central Australia was (and is) both a mythical and contested landscape.” So begins David Trudinger’s chapter in the book, Passionate Histories: Myth, Memory and Indigenous Australia. This thesis delves into that contested landscape with an examination of the contested history of the Rev. John Flynn (1880-1951). Flynn is memorialised in monuments across this country for his crucial role in the establishment of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the Australian Inland Mission (now Frontier Services) and a host of other achievements. His numerous biographies outline his many virtues and services to the Inland and he is often referred to as Flynn of the Inland. However, there are others who remember him as someone who excluded Aboriginal people from the services he created and who made disparaging comments about them. This multifaceted story and how it is told and remembered is explored at length in this research.

This thesis also explores the story of Dr. Charles Duguid (1884-1986). Duguid was a significant leader in the Presbyterian church at the same time as Flynn. He is credited with the founding of the Ernabella Mission and he contested Flynn’s attitudes and actions towards Aboriginal people. His story provides an illuminating comparison but his attitudes and actions are also multilayered and complex.

As the current minister of the Alice Springs Uniting Church that owns and gathers in the John Flynn Memorial Church building, I feel a great connection to Flynn and a responsibility to his great legacy. However, as someone who has lived in Central Australia for almost 14 years, walking alongside and learning from First Nations people, I am filled with sorrow when I read some of the remarks made by Flynn about them and realise the impact his arrival, as well as my ongoing presence here, has on their lives.

This thesis wrestles with how to hold these multifaceted stories together. It asks, is there a way to honour the history of people like Flynn, who seemed to live with the best of intentions, without dishonouring First Nations people? Can we hear and include the stories of Aboriginal people without disrespecting people like Flynn? Can these stories be told together? I reflect on these questions theologically by drawing on the contested narratives of the Bible. Acknowledging the stories that have been used to justify colonisation and violence against First Nations people I also discuss stories that contest these actions, stories that hold before us a different understanding of land, land ownership and how to respond to people already living in it.

This research was inspired by The Uluru Statement of the Heart that asks for truth telling about our nation’s history. The Christian faith of which I am a part claims that it will set us free.

Keywords: Flynn, Duguid, Truth Telling, The Uluru Statement of the Heart

Subject: Theology thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2023
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Tanya Wittwer