still calling, Australia

Australia Day. Invasion Day. Landing Day. Survival Day.

On 26 January each year, we celebrate our national holiday, but have not yet developed an appropriate fullness to the commemorations. Paul Daley suggests a minute's silence for those who died in the forging of 'Australia' - the thousands of Indigenous folk in particular, swept aside by the might of Empire, and still dying today before their time in prison or from illness and disease they would not know without the Europeans who changed their life and land forever. Many Second Australians died, too, in the harsh Australian landscape: and I wonder, how many lives of people of any descent would have been lived to greater fullness if the new arrivals had listened to the wisdom of those who were in the land first?

We could change the date of our national holiday - and I hope we will, perhaps if we become a republic, or when Indigenous Australians are recognised appropriately in our nation's constitution. A new date for a holiday, a new flag: a new hope, perhaps, that healing and reconciliation can come to our land.

Healing will only come, however, through honesty, through telling the stories with humility, courage, and integrity, through respect for the dignity of all who call Australia home, or need to, because life in their own has become unliveable.

Celebrating on 26 January is problematic, then, another national holiday in a world full of shadowy celebrations telling the stories of winners, oppressors, and colonisers.

It is problematic if it is a celebration tainted by ignorance, by wilful disregard of the fuller story of Australia and how we came to be.

But I will celebrate tomorrow. I will wear my map of Australia earrings, my Uniting Church in Australia medallion, my scarf of Indigenous artistic design. I will probably also wear my Flinders University jacket, Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi green and gold t-shirt, and my Australian flag bucket hat, at least for part of the day.

Because beside the shadows light still glows - warm, bright, sunshiny light. Though official policy oppresses vulnerable seekers of refuge and our help, many Australians offer welcome, solidarity, generous friendship. Though poverty, ill health and education continue to be challenges for Indigenous Australians, each year, more and more Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Australians are writing a new story.

Leading our nation into a growing understanding of who we are and can be, we have poets and scientists, teachers, actors, musicians, advocates, religious leaders, and even some politicians, and more, from ancestry as varied as all the countries of the world.

We are young, Australia. We do well to remember that we are ancient, too. And in all the jostling and adjusting to the reality that is Australia - from our troubled past to our uncertain present - I think we are moving into a hope-filled future.

I will pause for remembering and lament tomorrow, for all the vulnerable ones calling on Australia for help.
I do join with many in the call for more generous welcome, for robust healing and reconciliation.
And though I hope we change the date of our national day some time, tomorrow (or today, as it is Down Under, by now) I will celebrate - because Australia calls from its heart to mine, and I will always call Australia home.

P.S. I have a small collection of largely Australia-focussed poems in the Ginninderra Press Pocket Poets series (#8) In Prayer and Protest. Available from Ginninderra Press, or, if you're in the UK, from me (£3) (email sarahagnew dot storyteller at gmail dot com ).


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