My changing perspective on Australia Day


It happens to everyone as they grow up. You find out who you are and what you want, and then you realize that people you’ve known forever don’t see things the way you do. So you keep the wonderful memories, but find yourself moving on.     
~ Nicholas Sparks

It’s Australia Day,  a national celebration of the 1788  arrival of the First Fleet to Sydney Cove. A national holiday and day of celebration for all Australians. It’s a day I always looked forward to as a child and young adult – a day of barbeques and beach swims, of mateship and camaraderie.

But I’m fifty now, and other things pre-occupy me this morning as I drag the hose around our garden, filling the birdbaths and the bowls we’ve left out for the animals. I’ve never seen it this dry here at the farm. Australia’s been experiencing a catastrophic heatwave, and everything that was once green here in my little piece of paradise is dusty and brown. Since we’ve lived on this farm we’ve seen an alarming decline in bird populations, insects, marsupials and animals of all kinds. Some days I find it hard to breathe with this co-existing undercurrent of alarm.

I love this country. Her dust is in my veins. After my time in the Kimberley with my Aboriginal Aunties I truly understand what it means to belong to country. To feel the pulsing heart of this great land beating as one with your own. I still feel Australia’s beauty and magic daily. But even as my heart soars with the beauty and mystery of this country, it is breaking too.

An Aboriginal woman sits by rock carvings in Western Australia. Photograph: Medford Taylor/Getty

Breaking as I watch the effects of global warming, at the loss of habitats and ecosystems and at the mass extinctions that are happening on our watch. Breaking as I watch self-interested adults governing nations for short term re-election victories instead of with a true vision for the Earth’s future. Breaking as I watch whole tracts of land laid waste by mining and land clearing. Breaking at the plastic in our oceans. Breaking as I watch our government turn people away from Australia’s shores or lock them up in detention for years, forgetting that we were all once boat people too. Breaking for the historic treatment of our indigenous nations.

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. Like almost all indigenous nations around the world. We are losing their old ways, their wisdom, and their insights into the land right when we need them most.

Dancers from the Yarrabah community perform during the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival in Laura, Australia Picture: GETTY

I think about going shopping a few years ago on Racecourse Road 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. I’d had no idea…

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.

Image by Holger Leue

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 psychic 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 Nation Peoples still goes on today.

How can I celebrate Australia Day with pride if I cannot also acknowledge these deep stains of injustice and cruelty? If I cannot acknowledge the pain and suffering of my indigenous 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 emotions, 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 an entire cohort of our nation – our First Nation peoples – can’t know that same fortune, and while our planet is falling into ruins around us, it’s a hollow day for me.

With much love, Nicole ❤ xx

First Light, Byron Bay, by paul (dex) from vagabondish.com

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The Stain In My Heart On Australia Day

Image from www.youtube.com

Image from www.youtube.com

“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.

 

 

Australia Day, 2015

Image from abc.net.au

Image from abc.net.au

“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
~ Theodore Roosevelt

“Our true nationality is mankind.”
~ H.G. Wells

 

I’d thought to write a rousing piece for Australia Day – my country’s national day of celebration.

Or perhaps something humorous.

A blog full of pictures of pavlova and koalas. Kangaroos, killer sharks and Ayers Rock.

Image from tnooz.com

Image from tnooz.com

Maybe a tasty recipe to share at that traditional Australia Day barbeque.

But when I came to the page this morning, I found my heart so swelled with melancholy, nostalgia, love and pain, that no words came.

I love this country. Her dust is in my veins. After my time in the Kimberley with my Aboriginal Aunties I truly understand what it means to belong to country. To feel the pulsing heart of this great land beating as one with your own.

Even as my heart soars with the beauty and mystery of this country, it is breaking too. Breaking as I watch the effects of global warming. Breaking as I watch whole tracts of land laid waste by mining.

Breaking as I watch our government turn people away from Australia’s shores, forgetting that we were all once boat people too.

And my broken heart is also swollen with love. Love for the people who work this land. Love for the artists and the dreamers. Love for the good and honest people who value mateship and a fair go. Love for the people who serve, defend and protect us. All of the people whose lives are measured by how they contribute to family, community, society. Most of them who’ll never know an honour, or a medal, or a parade.

I guess that to love is also to hurt. How can it be otherwise when you care so deeply?

I am grateful to be born Australian. To know freedom and sunshine and plenitude.

Today I’ll gather with my husband and friends and we’ll share a meal, some stories and some laughs, and I’ll count my blessings.

Happy Australia Day!

What Australia Day means to me

Candy Holding the Australian Flag - image from Sydney Zoo

Candy Holding the Australian Flag – image from WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo

“I am compelled into this country.” 
~ Patrick White, Voss

“If you would know this country, you must know its stories.” 
~ Billy Marshall Stoneking

Australia Day for me has always been a celebration of what makes me feel Australian. It’s a combination of landscape, energy, history and connection with those souls who have walked this land before me. And a gratitude for having been born under these wide open skies, with space and freedom as my birthright.

As a child, on many an Australia Day long weekend, my dad would take us to his best friend’s house. Sometimes we’d even join their family and visit some of their relatives in the country. Evan, Dad’s mate, was a school teacher with an abiding love of the bush, and a strong social conscience. Looking back, these were formative times for me.

There was always a tribe of kids running round like lunatics, adults drinking beers and tossing steaks and snags (sausages) on a barbecue, lamingtons, fruit salad and pavlova, a game of cricket, and as the afternoon wore on, a recital of poetry and short stories from the likes of Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, Judith Wright, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Henry Kendall.

At night, while the other kids would bunk down telling ghost stories or watching a video, I would quietly sneak in to where the adults were sitting. Thereafter would follow more poetry, philosophy and perhaps some Australian History. Evan would regale us with tales of convict life, early settlement, the waves of immigrants, wars in which we’d fought, and of that time before Australia was colonised. He’d talk about the great Bunya Nut feasts, and of the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders Evan had taught, and what they had taught him.

I would drink in these stories until my soul was full to bursting.

Inside me a tiny flame was sparked and fanned. My fascination with my country and its collective history was born from these gatherings.

This is my Australia. A land of poets and artists. A land of plenty and of hardship. A land of ancient wisdoms and new beginnings. A place of fantastic landscape, and a rich diversity of flora and fauna.

This is my Country:

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koala

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Regrowth after the 1976 Divide fire; Don Despain; July 1977

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“And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.” 
― A.B. Paterson, Clancy Of The Overflow