Aboriginal Culture
Message Stick

The Message Stick has three sides with symbols

In Aboriginal culture message sticks were used as a means of communication with other groups. They were made of wood and came in various sizes, shapes and markings. They were not comprised of writing but of symbol; the messenger conveyed the details. The messengers were usually young men and, as they displayed the message stick to the elders of the groups they passed through, safe passage was granted.

On the 20th anniversary of the first National Aboriginal Mass celebrated in Melbourne at the time of the Eucharistic Congress in 1973, Aboriginal Catholic people once again travelled from the remotest parts of the land as well as from the Torres Strait to Melbourne. They undertook the journey to keep the story alive and to celebrate the second national Aboriginal Mass. This ceremony was held on the banks of the Yarra River as the opening of the 1993 National Liturgical Music Convention.

In preparation for this ceremony, Agnes Palmer, an Arrente elder from Santa Teresa, Alice Springs, was asked to paint a Message Stick using symbols representing each of the Aboriginal Catholic Communities.

Agnes Palmer, Arrente elder

During the Gospel procession this Message Stick was carried with great pride, alongside the book containing the Christian Word. This was a powerful symbolic gesture manifesting the willingness of both cultures to accept the Word and the coming together of peoples of different cultures to worship the Creator.

At the close of this ceremony, before returning to their country, the Aboriginal Catholic elders requested that the Message Stick be kept in a sacred place. Their choice was St Patrick’s Cathedral. From 1994-1998 the members of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry acted as the appointed custodians of this important artefact. On Aboriginal Sunday, July 5th, 1998, it was installed in its rightful place in the Cathedral.

The Message Stick will continue to touch and heal the hearts of all who hear and believe the message of this story. It will become a legendary, authentic Australian icon. The Church by accepting it, is taking an important step forward on our journey together toward reconciliation.

Aboriginal Culture