TRIBUTES continue to flow following the death of respected Noongar elder and Uniting Church reverend Sealin Garlett.
Merv Anderson studied at theological college with Rev Garlett in 1985 and joined his Coolbellup congregation Maaman ‘O’ Miya Church when he retired from the ministry. He remembers his old friend as humble, non-judgemental, and with a quick humour.
Both had little schooling before signing up, with Rev Garlett having been taken from his parents as part of the stolen generation and raised in a methodist mission, and Rev Anderson said that led to some tweaking of the scriptures.
“Back in [the college] days he would sometimes say ‘hey bro, what does that word mean’, and I would say ‘I don’t know bro, we’d better leave it out’,” Rev Anderson said.
“So we had a bit of fun with that.”
He says Rev Garlett was incredibly loyal to Noongar people and passionate about keeping their language alive, never seeming ruffled by walking two different worlds.
“It wasn’t a matter of culture being wrong and Christianity being right, he was just holding onto what he could – he just went with his heart, his spirit.”
Rev Garlett’s granddaughter Corina Abraham said she’d been so overwhelmed after his death she’d had to turn away from a vigil in his honour.
She remembers going to meet him and his large family in Merredin with her father in the 70s, saying back then the pair enjoyed a drink and a laugh.
“He used to be an old stud,” she laughed.
Her father had lived with Rev Garlett for a time; the elder continued to offer a roof to young people throughout his life, and she said when he later moved to Kwinana she became close and he instilled in her a deep love and understanding of Noongar culture.
But inter-generational trauma resulting from the Stolen Generation haunted his family and she believes this was a key factor in his decision to join the church.
“His main reason was to make a life for himself and his family, and to help [Noongars] with our struggle,” Ms Abraham said.
“Through the church was the only way he know how to help our people.”
The pair later co-chaired Cockburn council’s Aboriginal reference group and Ms Abraham said her grandfather stood beside her in opposing plans for an Outer Harbour in Cockburn Sound which they believed would be too damaging to the environment.
WA treasurer Ben Wyatt paid tribute to Rev Garlett, who’d advocated at a state level on issues including mandatory sentencing, justice reinvestment, the closure of remote communities and protecting the Beeliar wetlands.
“Rev Garlett was widely known and respected for his grace, compassion, justice and humility towards all people and became an advocate for reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians,” Mr Wyatt said.
Cockburn mayor Logan Howlett said Rev Garlett would be remembered by many for the Welcome to Country and smoking ceremonies he performed for the city.
“He captivated those participating in citizenship ceremonies with his Noongar language and Dreamtime stories, always delivered with a warm smile and sense of pride for his people and the community he represented,” Mr Howlett said.
Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt said Rev Garlett’s quiet and dignified manner and huge generosity left an indelible legacy.
“We are saddened knowing the knowledge, history and culture that passes with him,” Dr Pettitt said.
Rev Garlett is survived by his wife and seven children.
by STEVE GRANT