BINNAP Partners

Details of the formation of the BINNAP Partner Group, which holds an important place in the life of the ACM.


In 1992 ‘Binnap Partners’ was formed to support, to be in solidarity with and to act under the guidance of the Coordinator of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Victoria   (ACMV) Vicki Clark (formerly Walker). It was modelled on the Kuri-ngai Partners, a non-Aboriginal support group for the New South Wales Aboriginal and Islander Catholic Council.

‘Binnap’ is a word the Wurundjeri people gave to the Manna Gum which produces sugary pellets of sap on the tree where insects have bored holes. These pellets fall to the ground and were enjoyed by Koories and early Victorian colonists. As the Binnap tree nurtured both black and white people, the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry and its partner group chose it to symbolise the possibility of sharing and being nurtured by the same source.

The Binnap Partners’ symbol is that of two hands clasped around a leaf of the Manna Gum. Partnership is the term used to describe the relationship of the ACMV with non-Aboriginal co-workers and support groups.

Statement Of Purpose

The purpose of the Binnap Partners is:

  • To support the aims and objectives of the ACMV.
  • To develop among its members an awareness of Aboriginal issues.
  • To take this awareness to the wider community.
  • To assist the operation of the ACMV by raising funds that will allow the Ministry to extend its pastoral care to the Aboriginal Community and to call the wider Church Community to a response in justice.

The Founding Story of the Binnap Partners

During the early years of the development of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry there were religious women and men who provided support for the Aboriginal leaders. Sr Andrea Watt RSM, Sr Agnes Murphy RSM, Sr Joan Hamilton RSJ, Br Jim Cummins CFC and Fr Tom Nicholas SJ recognised that the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry needed to be self-determining and that their role was to be facilitators and co-workers. The Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, like so many other Aboriginal organisations, was over worked and under resourced. The obvious need of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry was to have a group of committed people to support its work, to stand in solidarity with it, to walk with the people of the Ministry and to assist in practical ways.

So it was that towards the end of 1991 an invitation from the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry was issued to people who had some prior contact with the Ministry to come together to explore the possibility of forming a Partner Group. The first meeting was held in November, 1991 where possibilities were discussed and hopes and dreams explored. People had different reasons for coming, different ideas of what each could bring to the group and various notions of personal gains that might come from belonging. However, the one unifying factor was the sense that Aboriginal issues and concerns presented everyone with an emphatic call to a stance of justice.

There were many apprehensions and doubts, but much optimism as well. The decision was taken to step out on the journey together. The early years were busy times but also times of reflection of where the group was and where it was headed. There was much listening and learning. Together the group grew ever more aware of Aboriginal issues - past and current – and of the injustices and prejudices that are still so evident in the structures and everyday happenings in our society. But above all there has come a realisation of the beauty, richness and great depth of the culture and spirituality of the first peoples of the nation.

The establishment of the Partner Group has not been achieved with total ease. Entering a different cultural setting calls for the art of listening instead of doing; of accepting instead of prescribing; and of self-conversion instead of converting. The dynamics of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry are such that the Aboriginal people, with their own way of ritualising, celebrating and organising are the leading players and offer their ‘difference’ for all to share. The lessons will not be easy for non-Aboriginal people who have become accustomed to their culture being the dominant element in any gathering.

As a group operating within the Catholic Church, the Binnap Partners endeavour to issue a call to justice on Aboriginal issues to the wider Church Community.

Carol Messer, Founding Partner

Some Activities and Projects of the Binnap Partners

  • For some years Marg Hill, a Binnap Partner, Joyce Smith and Vicki Clark of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry created a series of Workshops which aimed to inform non-Aboriginal people about the history of the Aboriginal people in Victoria. Since 1992 over 1,500 priests, sisters, brothers, parishioners, teachers and students have attended the “Binnap Seed Workshops” at the Ministry.

  • The Opening the Doors Foundation had its origin within the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry and the Binnap Partners. Since the Foundation’s inception well over one thousand families have been assisted with financial support in encouraging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to complete their education in a school of their choice.

  • The Binnap Partners supported a major fundraising event of the Opening the Doors Foundation, Walk Across Our Paperbark, in October 2002.  This event not only raised money for the Foundation but made the existence and purpose of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, the Opening the Doors Foundation and the Binnap Partners more widely known.

  • Activities like support for the Opening the Doors Foundation’s annual Oration and Birthday Celebration, exhibitions like Invisible No More and Dreaming in the City, publications like A River Dreaming, The Power of Story, Working in the Name of Grace and the Pass It On Message Stick Relay have all received considerable support from the Binnap Partners.

  • A major venture has been periodic Retreats to places of Aboriginal significance.  Places like Lake Mungo, Lake Tyers, Lake Condah, Coranderrk (Healesville) and Ltyentye Apurte/Santa Teresa, Alice Springs, have been visited and prayerful reflection of the history and events associated with the sites have further informed participants of the culture and history of the Aboriginal people.

  • Dreaming in the City – Aboriginal Art Exhibition - Praying the Rosary Aboriginal Way, was launched in 1997 with the three mysteries, Joyful, Sorrowful & Glorious as Happy, Sad & Wonderful Stories.  15 paintings to match the Stories were commissioned from 3 local Aboriginal artists.  In 2011, Dreaming in the City was relaunched in CD format with the addition of the fourth Luminous Mystery (Light Stories), with accompanying paintings.  Aboriginal Gumnut Rosaries are produced by Binnap Partners (led by Sr Helen-Mary Langlands) and are available for sale.

How to contact the Binnap Partners

The Binnap Partners are an incorporated body which meets on the third Tuesday of the month at 3.30 pm at 434 St Georges Rd, Thornbury 3071.  People are always welcome to join the group. The meetings consist of an educational section and a business section. The meetings finish by 5.30 pm.

The meeting time is flexible, depending on the composition of the group. You can make contact for further information by ringing 9480 3849 or emailing