The Stain In My Heart On Australia Day

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“I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!”

~ Dorothea Mackellar

 

This has been a hard post to write. Harder than I might ever have expected.

It’s Australia Day today, a national celebration of the 1788  arrival of the First Fleet to Sydney Cove.

I love my country. I am grateful for my home, and my community, for the standard of living we are afforded, for our social and political freedom, for our many opportunities. I am immensely proud of the multi-cultural nation that we have become.

And yet…

Is Australia fair?

My friends who are homosexual Australians cannot marry, or live as equals and enjoy the same rights as me. They are not shown fairness.

The many asylum-seekers who languish in custody while seeking refuge and a fresh start in Australia are not shown fairness.

 

I think of my Aboriginal Aunties. (Aunties through love and respect and their gracious inclusion of me in their family – not through blood.) I reflect on how they opened their arms to me, and shared wisdom and acceptance and grace when I was going through psychic awakening. In their culture I was normal, and these gifts were normal. Their kindness continues to shape and enrich me.

I think of the fact that their entire history was negated through the British policy of Terra Nullius at the time of white settlement, which obliterated Aboriginal sovereignty and rendered them invisible and without rights in their own land.

They are still, so often, invisible or made to feel that way.

I think about going shopping a few years ago on Racecourse Road, here at Ascot in Brisbane, with my friend Vynette and her mother Leanna. About how while I was in the change rooms trying on a dress they disappeared. I found them sitting in a bus stop down the road. Why? They’d been asked to leave the shop. They’d been told that they couldn’t afford anything, that they shouldn’t be touching anything – because they were making it dirty, and that they should just leave. Why? They are Aborigines.

I felt sickened that my dear friends had been subject to such racist treatment. Yet they were the ones who apologised to me! They were sorry, I shouldn’t worry, it happened all the time.

In a country where nobody bats an eyelid if I sit with a group of friends who are of various ethnic origins because ‘Australia is multi-cultural’, my Aboriginal friends get treated like this almost daily.

I think of all the history we aren’t taught. Of the massacres and incarcerations and rights violations of Aboriginal people. I’d never known about them. We were never taught them at school. It was never discussed within our homes. For me this history hadn’t even existed. Until one day when I had a visceral introduction to that suffering.

I remember being at a waterhole in country Queensland many years ago. As I sat beside that tranquil water, I was gripped with stomach cramps so bad that I lay down on the earth, wretched with pain. To my mind came a brutal vision and a knowing. I saw Aboriginal families writhing and dying after ingesting dampers (breads) laced with poison, and drinking from this waterhole, also poisoned. Could it be true? Surely, no! I researched local history later, and my vision was confirmed. It was well documented. And this type of poisoning was common. I began to dig around, and the more I looked the more I found. Atrocities. Injustices. Not just in our early days of settlement either. This racist treatment of Australia’s First Peoples still goes on today.

How can I celebrate Australia Day with pride if I cannot also acknowledge these ongoing catastrophic wrongs? If I cannot acknowledge the pain and suffering of my friends and their families and ancestors.

How can we grow as a nation if we are unwilling to acknowledge and accept that there is a darker past upon which our nation has been built? How can we hold our heads high if this inequality is still entrenched?

I love my country. But today I’m filled with mixed emotion, not a need for celebration. I’m happy for all those who choose to celebrate. We live in a beautiful country. A lucky country. Lucky for some. Lucky for me. But while my friends can’t know that same fortune, it’s a hollow day for me.

Advance Australia, Fair.

 

 

21 thoughts on “The Stain In My Heart On Australia Day

  1. When I lived in Hervey Bay I learned of the atrocities that had befallen the Butchulla people on Fraser Island. At times it made me physically I’ll when I learned the truth in the history and questioned what would lead one race to think it was acceptable to treat another with such contempt. The stain is still in the sand and on Indian Head today. Sad for somewhere they call paradise.

    • It was while I lived and worked on Fraser Island that I found out about all of this too, Karen. How can we turn away from that truth? It is only by bringing it into the light that it can be truly acknowledged and healed.

  2. Good for you, Nicole, to raise awareness. Some twenty years ago I was in Australia and couldn’t believe the prejudice – it wasn’t everywhere, to be fair, but in so many places it was just so blatant, saddening, and well … beyond words. Glad you raise the issue, and hope for fairer, equal treatment in modern times for all.

  3. Today always makes me feel sad and so ashamed of what has been done and still continues to be done to our indigenous peoples.

    The day our indigenous culture is taught in schools as part of our curriculum and especially starting at pre-schools will be the day we start to see a turn around.

    Our Maori brothers and sisters are respected & honoured in their country, why have we treated and still continue to dishonour ours so badly? Today is a day of shame for me, and I shall hold the custodians of this country close to my heart and soul, with respect and Love

    • I am hopeful for change, Satisha. And I’m also grateful that we live in a small pocket of Australia where the indigenous Elders are respected, included and consulted, and where Aboriginal culture is visible and proud.

  4. Beautifully written. Thank you.

    I had this conversation yesterday with my children to explain why our family doesn’t ‘celebrate’ Australia Day.

    Madelaine x

  5. Thank you for posting your feelings about the horrible treatment of the native peoples of Australia. Awareness rippling out to all the world is what we need. I am from the United States and our history parallels yours when it comes to horrible mistreatment of our own native peoples. We too were not taught our true history about what we did to the native Americans. In 1990 when the movie “Dances With Wolves” came out I was so emotionally devastated I sobbed uncontrollably for an hour. I felt so much disgust for what my people had and continue to do. I was overwhelmed with anger at my kind. It was then that I heard a voice in my head, a deep ancient male voice, which said “Shunka Hey Ya”. I calmed down instantly, knowing God or spirit had spoken to me. I tried to find out what it meant, assuming it was Lakota because the movie was about the Lakota people, but it was not. It took me 20 years to find out from a Reiki practitioner, it was Iriquois and it means, “One with All”. I tell you this to help spread awareness of this truth to all.
    Much Love,
    Felicia

  6. Thank you Nicole for your integrity and courage. It is indeed an affront to all those who have suffered through Australia’s dark past to ‘celebrate’ this day without acknowledging these wrongs, and that so many still suffer daily today. Australia Day really should be a day to pause and reflect, not celebrate.

  7. I somehow feel cheated that Aboriginal history was never taught to me in school, so I can’t begin to imagine how cheated our first nations people are *made* to feel just for being a different colour and having ‘different’ customs. I have so much respect and admiration for the people who have survived on this continent for so long and I still for the life of me, cannot understand the disrespect or ugliness that comes with racism XO

  8. Thank you so much Nicole for posting this, it is exactly how I feel. Today I woke up with an enormous grief in my heart because I am just beginning to understand how difficult this day is for the First Nations people. Acknowledgement is the key. Much love to you, xxx

  9. I so hear you, I love Australia best country on earth just saying but like so many countries it has a dark past, the way the Aboriginals were treated is a disgrace, it is not something I am proud of. For us Australia Day is the day we celebrate the birth of the love of my life (Tim). This is a great country we have come a long way but still there is a lot of unfairness around, many are treated different or as if they are in some way second or third class people and that pisses me off a lot. I prefer to treat people with kindness and respect, or how I would like to be treated myself. I hope you have a great (Tim’s birthday) day……………aka Australia Day

  10. i am so proud to be an Australian Nicole but your post reminds me there is still so much more to be done in our country to make it better.

  11. The sins of the past cast long shadows. Healing begins in truth and reconciliation, which, some times may mean, shining a light into those dark corners of our shared history that at times perhaps would be more convenient to ignore. We cannot overcome our history, but we can choose to begin to walk together in a new dawn’s light. We do this when we choose to begin to walk a path of acknowledgement and recognition of past injustices and atrocities and to use that past to ensure that today we strive boldly toward the promise of that bright day when freedom and justice and equality becomes more than the promise, but in fact is the reality for all.

  12. I did not know of this til I watched the movie Rabbit Proof Fence. How awful people can be toward one another. Jen

  13. Every nation has it’s shame and it’s still ongoing. We think we are making progress in one area only to find we are behaving badly in another. Prejudice runs rampant in all countries. We must education one mind at a time if that is what it takes. You are doing your bit here. You teach love. Love is what will win this. I’m with you 100%.

  14. I sat with an ‘Aboriginal’ recently while he was painting an incredible piece of art work that is now hanging on my wall. It was a gift to watch him create but an even greater gift to listen to him challenge me and my partner on our thinking around his culture. My big ‘take away’ from the conversation was this…..he asked me what I think the word ‘Aboriginal’ means. He then prompted me with ‘Ab’ means ‘not’ like in ‘abnormal’ – not normal. Ab-original means ‘not original’ i.e.: not an original Australian. What an insult to their beautiful culture. I felt ashamed to be Australian but at least now I understand how we are often coerced into a way of thinking or acting. Every time we call these beautiful ‘original’ people aboriginals we are rejecting them and taking away their true status. I now relate to them as ‘Original Australians’

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