Anglican Bishop of Bunbury apologises to Noongar people for ‘past pain and suffering’

Bishop Coutts with Pastor Jetta

The Anglican Bishop of Bunbury said the church failed to challenge unjust government policies towards Aboriginal people.

Bishop Ian Coutts acknowledged Anglicans likely took part in massacres at Pinjarra in 1834 and Pinjarra in 1841.

Indigenous elder and pastor Dennis Jetta has thanked the Bishop for his apology.

The Anglican Bishop of Bunbury has offered an apology to local Noongar people for past pain and suffering, and acknowledged massacres at Pinjarra and Minninup.

Bishop Ian Coutts said the apology was planned as the first of several offered to Aboriginal people in the southern parts of Western Australia.

The diocese had made the decision, in consultation with elders, in a step towards reconciliation, which it said would be “neither easy or quick”.

Bishop Coutts told a group of more than 50 people, including Indigenous elders and representatives of local churches, the diocese had failed to challenge unjust government policies that resulted in the Stolen Generations.

“We further acknowledge that shameful betrayals and massacres took place a number of times, and at a number of places which fall within the present diocese and in which it is quite likely Anglicans took part,” he said.

“Some recorded places are Pinjarra and Minninup, but there are also other places not recorded and perhaps only known in the stories of the elders.”


Bishop Ian Coutts
Bishop Ian Coutts offering an apology to Noongar people at the St Boniface Cathedral hall.(ABC South West WA: Georgia Loney)

Bishop Coutts said the failures of the church to challenge injustice were not consistent with its Christian teachings.

“On behalf of this diocese we offer a heartfelt apology to the Noongar and other First Nations people of the Bunbury diocese for the pain, violence, suffering and deep sadness of the past to which Anglicans may have contributed.”

Bitter history at Pinjarra, Minninup

The church’s apology follows a bitter history of violence in the South West, with flashpoints at Pinjarra in 1834, and Wonnerup and Minninup in 1841.

In Pinjarra, notes from Governor James Stirling and Captain John Septimus Roe say there were about 15 to 20 Bindjareb Noongar people killed during the massacre, while some traditional owners put the figure at more than double that, along with one colonial officer.


Wadandi elder Gayware
Wadandi elder Gayware (or sometimes known as Gaywal).(ABC South West: Anthony Pancia)

Further south, near Capel, there were reports of terrible retaliations by settlers after Aboriginal leader Gayware speared George Layman at Wonnerup in 1841.

The official report by Captain John Molloy stated that as well as the death of Gayware, four Wadandi men and a woman were killed, but later accounts suggested many more violent deaths.

Apology significant

Pastor Dennis Jetta, a Noongar elder, is a long-time advocate for the Indigenous community, worked for many years in the employment industry helping Aboriginal into traineeships, and is a chaplain with the Aboriginal Evangelical Fellowship.

He received an Order of Australia medal this year.

Pastor Jetta said he felt the apology, and acknowledgement, from the Anglican Diocese was significant


Pastor Dennis Jetta
Pastor Dennis Jetta after responding to an official apology to wrongs committed against Noongar people by the Anglican Church.(ABC South West WA: Georgia Loney)

“I’d like to thank the bishop for the apology and we’d like to see a bit more of this happening.”

He called everyone in the community to take on the “unfinished business of reconciliation”.

“I call on mainstream Australia, and Australian governments and people to contribute to a greater healing, by our societies, in owning the wrong doings of the past., claiming the true history of Australia, warts and all,” he said.

The Voice

Bishop Coutts said the timing of today’s apology was determined well before the government set the date for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum.

But he said the next steps of reconciliation would be deeply affected by outcomes of the referendum.

Mr Jetta said it was meaningful to hear the apology in the lead-up to the vote on October 14.

“I’d like to see the Voice come through, but there are few things they have to fix up first.”


Bishop Coutts with Pastor Jetta
Anglican Bishop of Bunbury Ian Coutts speaks with Noongar elder and Pastor Dennis Jetta.(ABC South West WA: Georgia Loney)

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