Dreams, visions and wisdom
Celebrating the life and ministry of Rev. Dorothy Harris-Gordon
The Rev. Dorothy Harris-Gordon, known to most as Aunty Dorrie, celebrated her Closure of Ministry at Marmung Uniting Fellowship in Coraki in August. Officially this is her second retirement. At the service there were many tributes thanking her for her wisdom, inspiration and service after 49 years in ministry.
Aunty Dorrie was ordained in 1999 and has been serving the Marmung ministry ever since. She was the first ordained Aboriginal woman in The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) in NSW and the ACT Region.
Aunty Dorrie is one of the original custodians of the Widjabul Clan of the Bundjalung Nation, which stretches from the Tweed in the north to Tenterfield in the west and down to Taree in the south.
Aunty Dorrie reflects on her early calling to God’s work as a young girl growing up with her family on the outskirts of Lismore and her dreaming — for her people and for the future of the Church.
It is only five days since her Closure of Ministry when we catch up with Aunty Dorrie by phone. A well respected and much loved member of the Lismore community, already she has spoken at a rally, given a Welcome to Country and hosted the General Secretary, Rev. Dr Andrew Williams and Katalina Tahaafe-Williams.
In the background a door slams, kids are running and Aunty Dorrie apologises for the noise, “You see, I live in a noisy place where everyone just comes in and goes again,” she says.
Barely audible, she whispers in Bundjalung to one of her great, great grandchildren as she takes some time out to talk.
Aunty Dorrie is wanted here, there and everywhere like a president. She travels and talks to students, university professors, government ministers, and her people about growing up in the 50s, Aboriginal culture and God.
Quoting the inspiration of black leaders like Martin Luther King, who had a dream for his people to become leaders, Aunty Dorrie explains why we are seeing black leaders, like President Barack Obama, fulfilling that ‘dream’ 30 years later.
Similarly, Aunty Dorrie explains she is a woman of dreams and visions. She is from this dreaming, leading in front with her people and with her husband, the Rev. Charles Harris, who passed away in 1993. She says there are more black leaders that must come forward in Australia.
In 1953 she married Rev. Charles Harris, one of the founders of The UAICC. As a young minister’s wife, she travelled to Queensland.
During her ministry, Auntie Dorrie had a passion for many things, but it was during her early work in the 1970s, with her husband, that she had her calling for God’s work.
“The passion of my heart was the one that was the driving force of my people, because so many of my people (50%) are incarcerated,” she explains.
Alongside Church members and Aboriginal Elders, Aunty Dorrie and Charles established a large community rehab centre in Paddington, Brisbane. Here they did God’s work with Aboriginal people in Musgrave Park who all too often gathered intoxicated which in turn led to violence in families recalls Aunty Dorrie.
After Charles passed away in 1993, Aunty Dorrie went to college in Darwin where she studied with the Rev. Rronang Garrawurra, who is the Chair of the National Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress. She was ordained in 1993 and after a Period of Discernment went to Grafton to establish her ministry at the Goorie Good News Centre.
She was a chaplain in the Grafton prison, and for more than ten years was a chaplain in all the big NSW prisons, including Long Bay, which is home to some of Australia’s most notorious criminals.
The odds stacked against her
Born in the 1940s it was not an easy time to be a woman and to be black.
“I was brought up in a very happy, sharing community just outside of Lismore near the river with my family and community of about 150 people,” explains Auntie Dorrie. There was no electricity and they only had rations to live on.
Aunty Dorrie says her dreaming came through the respect, caring, sharing and spirituality she learned from her mother and her father as a child, and that is what lead her to want to become a Minister.
From the age of five she went to an all-Aboriginal school in the Lismore area with about 25 children and one white teacher. They were not allowed to speak her language at school, only at home.
“Our laws, respect, values and spirituality were all imbedded in my upbringing, we were taught the Biblical laws, Genesis and the other books of the Bible.”
“Where I am today is just overwhelming,” says Aunty Dorrie as she talks about her Closure of Ministry, which was shared with relatives, family and the Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell — all of whom gave special tributes.
“In my heart is the feeling that when our people come out of prison it’s not to go around in a circle and go back. It is for young men’s healing; to learn skills and return to good health, strength and employment. It is important not to lose the younger generation. This is what I am dreaming,” said Aunty Dorrie.
Aunty Dorrie has been a driving force for Aboriginal rights.
“It has to be a passion and God inspiring. Without that you won’t be able to go and do it so much. The passion I have had is for the growth of Aboriginal Ministry especially among young people,” she says.
Forgetting for a moment that she is retired, Aunty Dorrie talks passionately about how she wants to see a diversionary centre in Lismore for young people set up to learn some skills and to heal from things like drug and alcohol addiction, so they can move on with their life. Already the project is in the pipeline.
“When they are doing nothing they just go round in circles. You know, God will raise up some as new leaders,” states Aunty Dorrie.
With the odds stacked against her, Aunty Dorrie is proud to have been the first ordained Aboriginal woman of the UAICC in the NSW and ACT Region.
“Because of my upbringing, women had to be silenced. But I broke that silence for all my dreaming to be a Minister. Now I would like some of my people to run with the dreams and visions,” reflects Aunty Dorrie.
Aunty Dorrie will continue to serve in the Regional Council of Congress NSW/ACT as State Elder and Deputy Chairperson and a State Elder representative at National Congress. Malveena Welsh will be leading the Marmung Fellowship.
Some facts about Aunty Dorrie
• She is a mother of six children
• She is the widow of the Rev. Charles Harris who was the founder of the UAICC
• She is a State Elder for and Co-Founder of the UAICC
• She is a Bundjalung local Elder of the Far North Coast Region: The Bundjalung Nation encompasses all of the Far North Coast Region and extends from the Clarence River in the south to the Logan River in the north, and to the foothills of the Great Dividing Range in the west. The Bundjalung people across the Northern Rivers region are represented by a Council of Elders comprising respected Elders from the different clans of the Bundjalung language group. The Council of Elders is an important consultative group for local Aboriginal people and is recognised as such by the wider community and government bodies. Protection and preservation of culturally significant areas and the environment is very important to the Bundjalung of Byron Bay Arakwal people and wider Bundjalung people.
• She was the first Ordained Aboriginal woman in The Uniting Church in Australia
• She was ordained in 1999. Retired Minister of Marmung Fellowship Congregation in Coraki, NSW
• She has served 45 years in ministry in the Methodist and The Uniting Church
• She was a Chaplain for ten years at Grafton, Long Bay, and Glen Innes Prisons
• She is the Deputy Chairperson of Congress Regional Council NSW/ACT.