I have recently been in some conversations about our identity – what does it mean to be an Australian? Are we ready to claim our sovereignty and be a republic? Beginning with these questions uncovered some deeper feelings and thoughts. I began to muse on what actually makes us visibly Australian to non-Australians and how we notice one another when we are away from home or in a group at home with other nationalities around us. I thought about you Hildegard, how people identified you, in a habit, in a cloister, as a Benedictine and whether being German (or rather what is known as Germany now) was part of your identity and how others identified with you? Our national identity seeps into our pores, I was told once that it is in the drinking water and comes through air conditioning ducts; like a scene from a Doctor Who episode. The cultural capital that somehow makes up this identity is deposited in varying amounts in each of us as we are captured by the landscape and find our stories waiting for us there or fused onto the songline that calls us home.
When I am away from my homeland of Australia I can hear an Aussie accent in a crowded room or on a busy street. I notice the songs of Aussie music on the radio and get chuffed when I see an Aussie movie on an airline choice list. There is something inside of me that connects and bonds me with an invisible umbilical cord to my motherland. I don’t think I am particularly patriotic and I am scared of what nationalism can do, I’ve never had a t-shirt with the flag emblazoned on the front or back and I don’t know all the verses of the national anthem. I do however love to see the red, red sand of the outback and the smell of the eucalypts after the rain, and hear the warbles of the magpies and laughter of the kookaburras, the taste of vegemite on toast and the feel of my ugg boots on cold winter’s morning – as the song goes these are some of my favourite things. How does my sense of self as an Australian then morph into a national songline and form a shared Australian identity? When so many Australians were not born here and most of us can’t claim custodianship of the land – we are not from the first nations. My ancestors came here leaving behind Ireland, Scotland, England, Greece – they came for greener pastures and the promise for the future they envisioned for their next generations. Bequeathing to me a legacy and inheritance that they probably wouldn’t have been able to imagine, such was their poverty and for some persecution. I wonder how much of an idea they had about what the exchange was all about – in their gain, Aboriginal peoples were moved off their lands, became ill, were persecuted, died. Whether I like it or not, it is possible for me to live where I live because of theft, ill gotten gains. Sometime back more nearly two hundred years ago (Willunga will be 175 years old as a village next year) a group of white men came along and started creating a village. The name of my town is Willunga, which means place of trees in Kaurna, and I am pleased it has retained its language, which somehow means to me that it was always known by this name and therefore was a place where people met and came often – to rest by the trees, drink from the spring-fed stream and enjoy the fruits of the land and catch up on news from those who stopped and passed by. This is pretty much what still happens to day although it is very rare to see an Aboriginal person in the main street.
I love where I live and I love the identity and sense of place that I can ascribe to myself to say I live in Willunga, I am an Australian. In doing so, though it is based on a terrible hurt and destruction of others who also gave this place a name and were claimed by the space in generations past.
I went to conversations about sovereignty and recognition of the same to be enshrined in our constitution and to separate from our British colonial past by becoming a Republic and it is still something I want to support – but first things first – we must acknowledge Aboriginal peoples in the Constitution before any other changes are made.
Back in 1967 when more than 90% of Australians voted to enable Aboriginal people to have the vote it was obviously a time when it was clear this was a certain and necessary step in how we saw ourselves as a nation, with the amount of mean-ness and small minded-ness rife in my land right now, I don’t know if that size of a vote would be achieved -but I really hope it would be. Division and disunity forecasts death. And so I think that unity is somehow connected to national identity as well and when we all face the future looking the same way into our hearts and at the horizon together the spirit of our land and the sense of ourselves as a nation might have the chance to gel and form a shared identity.
To that end Hildegard, I will talk and tweet, listen and share what I can over these next months to the Australian identity that can be shaped and informed by our deepest songline and by those who first heard the music in the land and who continue to sing it with dignity and remind us of how we can address the injustices of the past by embracing the future constructively. One important step is to recognise Australian Aboriginal peoples in the Constitution – after all sovereignty starts there. Once that is sorted and the dreaming track is walked together and we have, as Australians, righted a wrong then we will be ready to be a sovereign nation, grown up enough to be a republic.