Tag Archives: Australia Day

When you can no longer say ‘I didn’t know’ … it’s time to #changethedate

Thirty years ago today, I was a schoolgirl standing in the crowds around Sydney Harbour watching a re-enactment of the landing of the First Fleet 200 years before. I didn’t know then that at the same moment, the largest protest in Australia since the Vietnam War was happening just down the street.

I didn’t know then that the day I had been singing about as the “celebration of a nation” was for many others felt and remembered as “Invasion Day”, “Day of Mourning” and “Survival Day.” 

I didn’t know then that the Prime Minister was making a promise that day that there would be a treaty with our indigenous peoples within two years, a treaty that has still not eventuated, making Australia the only Commonwealth country without one.

I didn’t know then that sixteen years earlier, a tent embassy had been established outside Parliament House as a response to our nation’s refusal to recognise the rights of our indigenous peoples. I had caught a glimpse of that tent while on a school excursion two years prior, but I certainly hadn’t been told what it was or had that story included in our introduction to our country’s (white) history.

I didn’t know then that fifty years earlier, Aboriginal men had been locked up at the Redfern Police Barracks stable and then forced to be unwilling participants in an (inaccurate) re-enactment of the events of 150 years prior.

I didn’t know then that the mortality rate of indigenous children in Australia is twice that of non-indigenous children, or that there is a life expectancy gap of between 10 and 17 years.

I didn’t know then the words “stolen generations.” I had never heard them and would be horrified to discover what they mean.

I didn’t know then a single Aboriginal person. I hadn’t heard their stories, been welcomed onto their lands, been embraced by their communities, sung together as sisters and brothers, learned from their incredibly rich and diverse cultures.

And I didn’t know then that as well as my First Fleet ancestors whom I was taught to take such pride in, I have ancestors who participated in massacres of indigenous Australians. That this, too, is my history.

I didn’t know then. But I know now.

And now that I know, I can’t find today a day of celebration.

Now that I have learned, I can’t pretend that this doesn’t affect me or touch my life.

Now that I have listened, I can’t ignore the pain and hurt that has been shared with me by those who carry it.

That’s why I believe it’s time to #changethedate.

 

*Just to be clear, I do think 26 January should continue to be a day on which we acknowledge and remember the troubled history of this land and consider how we can work towards greater reconciliation and justice. But I think we should choose another day for our National Celebration Holiday.

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My Australia Day thanksgiving

I have the privilege of living in a land that is home to the world’s oldest living culture.

My country’s indigenous people have been storytellers for thousands of years, a rich tradition that inspires and instructs me as I seek to be a good teller of truth through stories.

Communities across this land have shared some of their unique songs with those of us who have come here more recently, enriching our experience of the great diversity of music.

The peoples of my nation have been custodians and caretakers of the land in a way that encourages and challenges my own care for creation.

My continent has hosted around 700 indigenous languages, weaving a rich tapestry that intrigues me and provides great insight for those who study the history of linguistics. The modern revival of some of these languages is a testimony to their people’s diligence and resilience.

I have personally been welcomed without question into the homes and campfires of strangers through mutual friendships and even embraced by being given a Warlpiri skin name.

The indigenous cultures of my home maintain a deep and abiding spirituality that confronts my tendencies to the novel and the superficial.

Many of the people groups of my homeland have embraced the gospel, enculturating it in ways that demonstrate new facets of God’s grace and glory to me.

This January 26, I am thankful for all the richness, beauty, culture, and knowledge that my indigenous brothers and sisters have and can share with me.

Today is a complicated day, for some observed as Invasion Day, for others lamented as a Day of Mourning, for others commemorated as Survival Day.

Last night I attended a beautiful service of prayer and lament, acknowledging our history as a nation, naming the injustices that have been and are being done, and recognising the ongoing consequences for indigenous people of our failure to address them. We need to walk and work together to bring change. I hope I can find ways to be part of bringing this change.

In response, for me today is not about celebrating or commemorating, but about naming some truths that are too often overlooked. I live on and in a land that belonged to others, and they have much to teach and bless me with. I am thankful for them and for how their story has enriched my life.

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Australia Day. It’s complicated.

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.