Tag Archives: Australia

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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Today would be a good day to be at Gallipoli

It seems appropriate to follow up Friday’s post about what Anzac Day might say about Aussie culture and the gospel with my own reflections from visiting Gallipoli a couple of years ago.

Lone Pine
Looking out from Lone Pine
What did I love about visiting Gallipoli?
Crossing the Dardanelles
Crossing the Dardanelles

We stayed the night before at Çanakkle and watching the sunset over the Daranelles looking toward the Gallipoli peninsula was quite moving.

Sunset from Canakelle

Visiting a place which you have heard of so frequently but never really known much detail about is an engrossing experience. For starters, I found Anzac Cove much smaller than I expected.

Anzac Cove landing site

The whole peninsula is fairly barren and undeveloped, and just seems like such a desolate and strange place for our national myth to be centred on.

Looking up the hill from the cove

I’m not generally the most nationalistic person, but it was powerful to reflect on the heartbreak suffered by so many so far away back home whose sons never returned from this place.

Ari Burnu Cemetery
Ari Burnu Cemetery

I was also impressed by the hospitality of the Turkish people in welcoming us to remember and commemorate our story in the midst of their own.

The words of Atatürk, Turkish Commander at Gallipoli and later President of Turkey
The words of Atatürk, Turkish Commander at Gallipoli and later President of Turkey
 What did I learn from Gallipoli?
Lone Pine Memorial 2
Lone Pine

The number of graves alone tells the story of the futility of war. This is not a place for celebration, but for sombre contemplation on the darkness of human history.

Ari Burnu Cemetery 2
Ari Burnu

I knew we had a distant family connection to Gallipoli, but was not expecting to find a family name on the memorial to those who have no known grave. Certainly that gave me a deeper sense of connection to this place.

Close up memorial

And yet I struggled as I stood there to reconcile all the stories, the legends, that I have heard over the years, with the stark reality of this place. I’m not convinced that every individual Australian who faced death in this place was “staunch to the end” or “steady and aglow.” I wonder how many of them were afraid, humbled, and confused.

Lone Pine Memorial

I couldn’t help wondering how often Australians erroneously glorify this place and what happened here.

Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey
Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey

I had an intriguing conversation with my Turkish guide, when I asked him what he thought about all these Australians coming here to remember. At first he brushed me off with a smile, “We love it! We love you!” but when I pushed deeper, he admitted that he really didn’t understand it. That from his perspective it was a little strange, and that perhaps at times he found the way we spoke and acted while in his country a little offensive.

Across the Dardanelles
The Dur Yolcu memorial reads in Turkish: “Stop passerby!

 The ground you tread on, unawares, once witnessed the end of a generation.

 Listen, in this quiet earth beats the heart of a nation.”

It can be so hard to see things from another perspective, to put ourselves in the shoes of the “other side.” But perhaps that is the most important lesson of a place like this. How can we move beyond our own side of the story to embrace the truth, which surely includes fault and failing on both sides, as well as inspiration and courage, again on both sides?

The Mehmetcçik Memorial, showing a Turkish soldier carrying an injured Australian back to his trenches
The Mehmetcçik Memorial, showing a Turkish soldier carrying an injured Australian back to his trenches

This was really brought home to me a few days later in Ankara, where I saw this painting inside Ataturk’s museum. It looked so familiar … and yet the ones I am used to seeing come from the perspective of the other side. People who place ourselves on opposite “sides” and yet we are all so very similar, so very human, so very caught up in seeing things our own way that perhaps we don’t even notice that those who seem so different are actually very much the same?

Painting

In the end, at the going down of the sun, I hope we do remember them, all of them, from all sides, and learn from them all.

Sunset over the Dardanelles