Australia Day - a day to celebrate?
I don’t know about you but I love a good lamington, I love a good meat pie, and I absolutely love a lamb cutlet on the barbie. On 26 January, many thousands of these will be consumed across this country that is now called Australia. These foods are part of our history and our present; culture and tradition passed down over generations.
However, on 26 January I will be conflicted. I am an Aboriginal person, a descendant of the Waka Waka peoples in Queensland. On 26 January, close to 600,000 people in Australia, representing over 300 people groups, will be conflicted. You see, we will be conflicted because we want to share our culture with you, the oldest living culture in the world, culture and tradition passed down over 2,000 generations. We want to share with you the good things about Australia and embrace all our brothers and sisters who now come from every corner of the globe. We cannot however do that on 26 January and, truth be told, we are usually not invited to.
To be able to share we have to become friends and sadly, the gap in our friendship is so wide it is often hard to say if we are even acquaintances or we are still strangers. To be friends we must share our pain. The 26 January is painful for both of us. As Aunty Jean Phillips says, “your history is our history; our history is your history”.
For us, on the 26 January we will be commemorating, not celebrating. We will be commemorating losses – loss of land, loss of language, loss of life. Let us remember in 1788 it is estimated there were 1,000,000 Aboriginal people across this land and by the early 1900s that number had dropped to between 30,000 and 90,000 people. Our land, our Australia, is drenched in the blood of Aboriginal peoples where genocide, massacres, rape and theft occurred. Today, our population level has still not returned to that in 1788. So we will be commemorating, mourning, grieving...
As Christians we know we are meant to love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). A neighbour is not just someone who lives overseas - our our neighbour is right here in Australia. This 26 January, will you love your Aboriginal neighbour, your Aboriginal neighbour who was and is a steward on behalf of our Almighty Creator and took care of the land you now call home for over 60,000 years? Will you love your Aboriginal neighbour who is grieving? Will you love your Aboriginal neighbour without any conditions?
My prayer and request is that you stop, pause, and reflect. That you acknowledge, lament and pray. That you acknowledge the true history of this land. That you lament the stolen land, stolen wages, stolen generations, genocide and massacres – a history that still affects our present. And that you pray – that you come and kneel beside your Aboriginal brothers and sisters at the foot of the cross. This is what truly loving us as your neighbour looks like. This is what truly being our friend looks like.
Please come and join us at a prayer service http://www.commongrace.org.au/jan26_services or have the courage to say a prayer in your own church this Sunday - a prayer of love for Aboriginal people, a prayer of acknowledgement for the pain, loss and grief that will be felt on 26 January and a prayer for a better Australia for all Australians. But I dare to ask for more, I dare to ask you to come and join us whether at any number of Aboriginal marches or gatherings held in every capital city on 26 January. We will probably be having a barbie too but it will be a time where we think about what 26 January means to us as we commemorate the day as ‘Day of Mourning’, ‘Survival Day’, ‘Aboriginal Sovereignty Day’ or ‘Invasion Day’.
My other prayer is for a change of date (#ChangeTheDate). If we truly want to celebrate Australia and include all Australians we must #ChangeTheDate. We cannot continue to celebrate a day that represents the day the Union Jack was raised in 1788 by Captain Arthur Phillip, a date that represents dispossession and genocide.
The request to change the date is not a new concept, we have been campaigning for years to #ChangeTheDate. Australian of the Year in 1984, Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue said, “I would however make a strong plea for a change of date. Let us find a day on which we can all feel included, in which we can all participate equally, and can celebrate with pride our common Australian identity.”
Let us also remember that celebrating an Australia Day public holiday together as one nation only began in 1994 so why are so many so attached to this date? There are many steps to the journey of healing for our nation. If we #ChangeTheDate it is only one small step in that journey. But it is an important one. The question is when you know your brothers and sisters are hurting can you continue to celebrate this date? Do you want to be on the journey towards healing that focuses on truth, justice, love and hope? Or do you want to continue on a journey that divides our nation and causes pain?
This 26 January, I hope wherever you are you’ll pray for Aboriginal people, learn a bit more about the true history of this country, and love us as God called you to, as people created in his image showing us compassion and not judgement.
Please join me in appealing to #ChangeTheDate.
Brooke Prentis is an Aboriginal Christian Leader and Aboriginal spokesperson for Common Grace. She is also on the committee for Dhumba, TEAR’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program.