beyond survival day: reflections on australia day 2012
This post is of the kind I dread most; a subject about which I am deeply convicted, that I find hard to form into a coherent discourse, and that I know will win me few friends.
However in light of the current subject my discomfort is jovial at best, and I would do well to remember that.
January 26 is a day of celebration for most Australians, of our history, identity and future. However in remembering our history many Australians prefer to screen out those episodes that do not paint the colonisers in a venerable light.
Exactly one year ago I wrote a post entitled Happy Invasion Day, a reminder of the fact that this land was taken from its first peoples. Since then I have come to prefer the label “Survival Day”, a commemoration of the fact that despite the recent history of this land the Aboriginal people are still here. Whatever the label, I can no longer celebrate Australia Day in the same way I have in years past; I cannot celebrate only the positive aspects our history knowing the pain and suffering of innocents on which it is built. Both must be acknowledged.
I do not wish to speak on behalf of Aboriginal people, for I am aware I have no right to do so. But I am also aware that in our current situation the gap between black and white is increasing in the areas of health, housing, education, child mortality and imprisonment rates. One day I want to celebrate January 26, but not until things are being set right.
Which leads me to wonder, what is the theological imperative for White Australia, and particularly for white Christians like me? Many of us have used the excuse that the fault is not ours, but the generations preceding us – the sins are not ours.
There is of course some merit to this argument. But in another sense our prosperity is built on past sins, and wiping our hands of wrongdoing will not wipe away ongoing responsibility.
Meanwhile the biblical prophetic witness cries out for justice. We may remember that the Moses tradition expects land to be returned to the family who originally owned it every fifty years in the event of foreclosure. This is still the case even if the initial generation involved had died. Indeed, the succeeding generations who have inherited the land must nonetheless take responsibility to do justice and return it:
Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.
“‘In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to their own property.
“‘If you sell land to any of your own people or buy land from them, do not take advantage of each other… (Leviticus 25:10-14)
If this the case with land that was legally bought, and not stolen, how much more seriously then is land theft to be viewed? 1 Kings 21 may serve as an important reminder – Naboth refuses to sell his vineyard to king Ahab who is subsequently counselled by his wife, Jezebel, to take possession of it dishonestly. Naboth is eventually murdered and Ahab takes his land.
Elijah’s subsequent judgement is indicative:
‘Thus says the LORD, “Have you killed and also taken possession?”’ And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD: “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood.”’” (1 Kings 21:19)
All this is a rather truncated and unsophisticated way of arguing that the Bible presents God as considering land ownership to be a serious matter.
What then does this mean for modern Australians?
I don’t know. But I do think we have a theological impetus to work toward reconciliation and reparation. What might this look like? My Aboriginal friends constantly tell me that they do not seek the return of all the land, but simply to have the land shared fairly and justly and for Aboriginal people to be treated equal to everyone else.
It is true that most of us have drifted from our lands of racial origin; it is unrealistic (and undesirable) to seek the impossibility of racially pure nations. But reconciliation is not some untenable return to pre-White Australia; it is an acknowledgement of our whole history and a future together characterised by friendship and equity, the making of a beautiful home together.
Perhaps this is a welcome reminder to a contemporary Australia that largely ignores the first inhabitants of the land, annually celebrating the inauguration of their colonisation, while simultaneously doing what it can to “protect” itself from new peoples.
Most of all it is a challenge for Christians to champion the cause of the Aboriginal people and the existence of a just Australia. It is a challenge to repent of the sins of Ahab and to proclaim the beauty and generosity of the Jubilee.
This is no easy task, when even Aboriginal people are divided as to what the future should look like. But this disagreement is no different to any other controversial issue, and it should not stop us striving forward to the goal, together.
And maybe then I’ll be able to celebrate January 26 with pride.
I would like to dedicate the comments section of this post to prayers for the Aboriginal people and the future of Australia. If you would like to offer a prayer, please feel free to add it below.
Posted on January 26, 2012, in Advocacy, Current Events and tagged Aboriginal, Australia Day, Indigenous, Invasion Day, January 26, Jubilee, Naboth's Vineyard, Survival Day. Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.