Rev. Dr Gondarra Oam

Rev. Dr Gondarra Oam, Photo: Uniting Church in Australia

The World Council of Churches and its Commission for World Mission and Evangelism give deep thanks for the life and witness of Rev. Dr Gondarra,” said Rev. Dr Peter Cruchley, director of the commission. We know his strong spirit continues to empower his peoples’ continuing struggle for justice for aboriginal people, and as we bless him and them, commit to this continuing work together.”

Lori Ransom, World Council of Churches (WCC) Indigenous Peoples consultant, said: The WCC's ecumenical Indigenous people's network extends condolences to all who knew and loved Dr Gondarra. We give thanks for his leadership in the pursuit of justice for Indigenous peoples within the church and society.”

Rev. Mark Kickett, Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress national chair, said that the loss of Rev. Dr Gondarra has seen the curtain close on one of the most extraordinary men of our time. 

Our prayer is that the God whom we love and serve, will sustain you through this sad time and that you may know the peace of God that surpasses all understanding,” he said. 

Rev. Sharon Hollis, president of the Uniting Church Assembly, noted that Rev. Dr Gondarra was the first and only Indigenous moderator in the Uniting Church. He also served on the WCC central committee and was a pioneer of Indigenous theology, both in Australia and around the world. 

He showed us how Indigenous culture and spirituality can inform and enliven theology,” said Hollis. My spirit is grieved at this profound loss.”

Hollis extended prayers for his family, his community, and all who grieve his loss. May his lifes work continue to inspire us to learn from Indigenous people and work for the recognition of the sovereignty of First Peoples,” she said.

Fighting for justice

Rev. Dr Gondarra was one of northern Australias most revered spiritual leaders and civil rights activists, known as a man of unwavering compassion for his people and their plight. He died in Arnhem Land at age 79.

He straddled two worlds over many decades, as both a lawman of his Dhurili clan in northeast Arnhem Land and as Australia's first ever Aboriginal Methodist minister.

An astute negotiator, the prominent Yolŋu leader was known for his straight-talking approach, and for calling out the failures of government policy and those of his own church.

Rev. Dr Gondarras eldest daughter, Biritjalawuy Gondarra, described her father as "a battler" who took his fight for justice to some of the highest offices in the world, including the United Nations.

"He's done so much for his people for the last 50 years, to gain justice and freedom in Australia," Biritjalawuy Gondarra said.

"He's been a great role model, to us, his children, and to many of us.” 

Rev. Dr Gondarra was chairman of the Arnhem Land Progress Association for 30 years, a role through which he pushed and advocated tirelessly for the economic equality of his people.

Upon his retirement in 2023, he described the role as one of the greatest privileges of his career.

Under his leadership the small organisation grew to operate more than 25 stores and deliver major community service programs and enterprise businesses to support Yolŋu people throughout Arnhem Land.

He grew up on a Methodist mission in East Arnhem Land in the remote Northern Territory.

There, he learned both the ways of the western world via the missionaries, and the intricacies of his sacred Yolŋu Rom (law) from his clan elders.

As he grew older, he devoted himself to theology, travelling abroad to Papua New Guinea, where he undertook religious studies and took to heart the doctrines of the Uniting Church.

Rev. Dr Gondarra lived through successive waves of western intervention that transformed the fabric of his Elcho Island home.

He saw traditional Yolŋu enterprise flourish in the mission days and weaken as his people struggled with welfare dependence and against rising rates of crime and disadvantage.


Ecumenical Indigenous Peoples Network