Some thoughts on Australia Day…
In 2016 The Australia Day Council announced that Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Culture would be ‘front and centre’ in the nation’s celebrations. The 26th January is the day we as a nation celebrate with BBQs, beaches, and fireworks what is so great about our nation – its beauty, values, and people. Yet for a growing number of Australians, there is unease about celebrating Australia Day as we begin to understand just what this day represents for our First Nations people.
As we explore the tensions that surround Australia Day, a key principle of social justice may be helpful to us in our desire to both celebrate the good, but to also acknowledge the atrocities that have occurred with relation to Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people historically that allow us to have the freedom we have as a country today. It is that of ‘Including the Excluded’ (Jesus and Justice, International Social Justice Commission).
Experiencing exclusion is traumatic, often evoking a sense of loneliness, isolation, and unworthiness. The sad reality is that in 2016, our Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters continue to be excluded from the Australian dream that most of us share. With lower life expectancies, much poorer health outcomes (Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people are 14 times more likely to be hospitilised for health issues), lower levels of education (only 55% finish High School), higher unemployment levels (21% against national 5%), and a trend against Indigenous people achieving high-profile roles (there are currently only 3 federal politicians of Indigenous heritage), it is unsurprising that many feel isolated and excluded from daily Australian life and find little to celebrate on January 26th.
Perhaps our challenge this Australia Day is to be like Jesus and seek out and include the excluded. Jesus socialised with lepers and others deemed unclean by society; he included women and children in his life; and he included You and I, sinners before a sinless and holy God, in his ongoing ministry. In the Kingdom of God we are all included – “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
So as we begin to think about this Australia Day, may our Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters be ‘front and centre’ in our minds and hearts. And perhaps one way of addressing any tension we have around January 26th is to not only be thankful for the many blessings we have in this great nation, but also to be challenged to become a better and more inclusive nation, by allowing ourselves to be challenged by acknowledging the legacy of disadvantage and marginalization that continues and our call to walk alongside our brothers and sisters. May we be challenged to be a nation that includes the excluded regardless of race, colour, ethnicity or gender.
Prayer – “Our God, we embrace our citizenship as a gift. We acknowledge that we had no choice about where we were born or the kind of families who brought us into this world. Grant us eyes to see those in our society who live among us as outsiders. Protect us from the hardening of our inner spirits that can turn us away from the people who most need our compassion. Amen.” (Jesus and Justice, International Social Justice Commission).