Last year I was humbled and honoured to co-create Healing Australia – a day of ceremony and prayer with Susan Moylan Coombs and Nic Rowan. The day culminated in a deeply powerful ceremony that saw non-indigenous Australians officially welcomed to Country by the Elder Dennis Foley in Manly, Sydney.
The ceremony was part of re-imagining the 26th of January (known as Australia Day) as a day of healing and education. We had many conversations to explore whether healing and education could co-exist with celebration.
I do believe that with good leadership it may be possible. By good leadership, I mean a Federal Australian Government that leads with love, kindness and compassion. Sadly, that leadership does not currently exist, nor has it for some time.
First Nations People are born of, and have tended to their land (that we call Australia), for over 60,000 years. They are an ancient people, one of the oldest in existence. And then on that fateful day on 26 January 1788, the British Empire arrived by boat and staked its claim on the land. That moment brought about the decimation of the indigenous population by murder, slavery, disease and racist policies that have lasted to today. Languages and cultural practices were lost. Indigenous families were torn apart and modern cities were built on top of traditional song lines.
We do not need to look to the US to see dis-unity, division, racism, white privilege and inequity. It is alive and well in Australia.
In May 2020, I was abhorred to read of Australian mining giant Rio Tinto blowing up an ancient Aboriginal cave that dates back 47,000 years. Then in October 2020, the sacred Djab Wurrung tree in Victoria was torn down to make way for a highway. These terrorist acts send the message that the Australian Government continues to intentionally erase Aboriginal life in this country.
Which prompts me to ask these important questions:
Do you still feel comfortable celebrating modern day Australia on 26 January?
Knowing about the generations of trauma that have been endured, and continue to be endured on a daily basis by Indigenous communities around the country, do you still feel comfortable partying on this day?
I most certainly do not.
This day is a solemn day. This day is a day of mourning. It is time to change the date of Australia Day.
I do however feel, as I did last year, that 26 January could be transformed into a day of healing, education and culture led by First Nations communities.
Looking back at our Healing Australia Day ceremony in 2020, it followed the greatest destruction of flora and fauna by bushfire we have ever witnessed in Australia. Shortly afterwards, we were all to become threatened again..this time by disease. Powerful signs that we need to listen to Mother Earth and to become love, compassion and kindness with every fibre of our being.
We simply cannot celebrate the Australian values of freedom, fairness and equality on this day of 26 January, knowing what we know.
We cannot keep having the same conversations and demonstrations year after year. The time for action is now.
I stand today in solidarity with my First Nations friends and communities.