There is much to celebrate about living in Australia today. We have incredible natural beauty, material riches, social opportunities, political freedom, and cultural innovation. A national day is a good occasion to name and reflect upon all of these things. I’m grateful for my country.
There is also much to grieve over in living in Australia today. Issues of domestic violence, suicide, binge drinking and racism, among others, are too often hidden behind our “she’ll be right mate” attitudes. A national day is also a useful opportunity to reflect on who we want to be and what we need to change. I want to participate in seeing my country grow.
There is a huge challenge in marking this day of all days as our national day. Two hundred and twenty seven years ago today we didn’t win a battle or make a political declaration or join together with a vision for a nation. We invaded someone else’s land, and we still haven’t really come to terms with the systemic and generational problems we wrought upon those people. I grieve for my indigenous brothers and sisters.
There is also great irony in remembering the day people like me arrived in this country uninvited by boat in the current context of our national policies and attitudes towards those who make that same kind of journey today. It’s difficult to sing the second verse of a national anthem which proclaims we have “boundless plains to share” when we imprison children whose parents have tried to take us up on that offer. I am horrified by my complicity in how my country is treating refugees.
Australia Day is a complicated day.
Today, many Australians will enjoy a day off work, head to the beach, share a barbie with mates, watch fireworks, wear green and gold (or red, blue and white – even that is complicated!) Others will attend ceremonies honouring some of our citizens for acts of bravery or lifetimes of service, or become citizens themselves, pledging to play their part in making this country what it can yet become.
Today, I am inspired by some good friends to add to my Australia Day some practices that acknowledge the complicatedness of this day. I want to pause to acknowledge what happened on this day. Rather than pretend we can forget the past, I want to remember it rightly. My friend Julian wrote a thought-provoking piece that gives me some ideas on how to begin to do this. And I want to seek God’s forgiveness and favour on this land and all her people, no matter who they are or where they have come from. My friend Ellen wrote a beautiful lament last year that gives me some words to begin to do this. I hope they will inspire you as well.