Happy Australia Day?

In recent years Australia day has increasingly contentious, particularly in regard to the past treatment of Aboriginal people.

For many Australia is a place of hope and joy. Millions have grown up here and are thankful for peaceful and prosperous lives. Others have come to Australia for refuge, leaving wars and conflicts in other countries. For these, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate Australia.

Yet for many Aboriginal Australians, January 26 is not a day of joy. Stan Grant writes that it is ‘for so many of the First Peoples of this continent…a day of pain, a reminder of the history of segregation, exclusion and brutality.’ (Australia Day, p.231). From arrival of the First Fleet white man spread out, not in friendship but with plans to take the land. This led to the horrendous treatment of many Aboriginal men, women and children – including family separation, rape and massacre. This history is a national tragedy. 

So then, what are we to do with Australia Day? Grant writes, “One of my students asked me what I thought of Australia Day. It is a question I have wrestled with, torn between pride in my country and my family’s legacy of suffering…I know now, we are asking the wrong question. Australia is more than a day, it is more than a date – whatever that date may be. Moving the date or abolishing Australia day does not answer the question who are we? (p.233)

Who are we to be, and how will we get there? It is at this point it is well worth us listening to many Aboriginals as to their experiences and thoughts. And the gospel provides help too – remembering 54% of Aboriginals are Christian, to Australia’s 55%. For us to think and pray about:

  1. In Christ’s death on the cross God brings peace between hostile groups (Ephesians 2:14-28). This means that with everyone else in Christ, we are fellow citizens of God’s household, and even to the unbelievers we can offer forgiveness and peace.
  2. We are commanded, as Christ first showed to us, to humbly value others above ourselves, not looking to our own interests but to the interests of others (Philippians 2:1-4). What preferences and interests are Christians prepared to lose for the sake of healing between groups in our land?