January 26 is a day Australia sets aside as a public holiday to mark the invasion of the British onto the east coast by rogue Captain who didn’t follow orders and make a treaty or alliance with any locals he encountered. Like all colonial acts, lies and miscommunications, failures in the authorisation processes lead to damage of the land, people and all species.
I grew up under the Southern Cross and always feel disorientated when I can’t see her in the skies when I travel outside my celestial canopy. I can’t imagine the awe and wonder of arriving to this land and seeing for the first time so many strange and awesome sights. What began in the name of science, set a trajectory of death and survival.
Today I want to acknowledge the men and women who have taught me and been willing to forgive my ancestry and apprecenticed me into more understanding and invited me into ways forward both together and apart. People like the late Sonny Flynn, Bruce Hammond, Rosemary Wanganeen and the writers, poets and leaders I don’t know personally but who have shaped and influenced me such as Stan Grant, Anita Heiss, Bruce Pascoe, sporting stars like Nicky Winmar and Adam Goodes and all the people along the way who have come into my life and offered up their knowledge and guidance so generously to support my learning and correct misunderstandings.
I got quite active in the movement first during 1988 – the bicentennial of Capt Arthur Philip’s arrival into Botany Bay with what is known as the First Fleet. I participated in all kinds of events, learnings and actions. When I was a member of the Adelaide Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission for the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide, I wrote a ten point plan of action which included things like having the Aboriginal flag fly at the Cathedral (and for the record it still does).
I am struck at this moment, about how much I have to learn about the land. Having moved to a new place I am very conscious of how nude it is. There is almost no habitat for birds and bugs and that is my first priority. What belongs here and how can planting and be healing and restorative will help heal and restore me too. The inextricable bond between land and people is so familiar to indigenous people who have not been severed from their connection and I am yearning to get more connected. I have an inkling this is at the heart of what is needed to help us take the steps we need to take to protect our species and be able to live on this planet. It is time for us to care for the earth.
In theological terms we are shifting from stewardship to care. We have to give up the lording over and having dominion mind sets and behaviours to be in collaboration, partnership, tender care for our home. The evangelical call is clear from the voices of young ones through the ancient cloisters of the Vatican – even the same family who sent Cook and Phillip to our shores is divesting from fossil fuels!
Colonisation and racism and environmental justice are inextricably linked. Brown and black lives matter – they are the ones who have lost their forests first, their food bowls; they are the first climate refugees and we know they have already paid the price in disease and death of their ancestors as extraction and exploitation spread like wildfire as land, oil, gas, minerals were pillaged throughout the ages. It has been universal and Australia has had its dreadful moments. For me one such moment was in 1997 when Prime Minister John Howard, going against a High Court decision came up with a ten point plan of his own to correct (in his words) : The fact is that the Wik decision pushed the pendulum too far in the Aboriginal direction. The 10 point plan will return the pendulum to the centre. The plan included an adjustment that would impact on mining, land, air and water resources. While there have been many legislative and public policy moments in Australia, this one still stands out to me as one of the best examples of how authority was misused, the courts dis-respected and colonisation, racism and environmental injustice perpetuated.
I am heartened by the growing number of people in our land who commemorate rather than celebrate this day, who mark the occasion with reflection on who we are and who we are becoming as a country, who take the time to wonder what will it take to find just settlement, who explore what restitution and healing is even possible. To be active in these times, requires all kinds of help and calling on the Divine won’t hurt either. Even the great coloniser’s of the past are returning to their roots to their essence of fidelity to our only home. It’s not a bad place to start on this day to incant a prayer for our planet and our times where we are in so in awe of the land we are impatient to care for her and in doing so reach our human potential – which I can’t see is possible without the decolonisation we all have to do inside and out.
A prayer from Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
that we may protect life and beauty.
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.