Tag Archives: Victoria Square

Year of activism #22

Across the world the last words of a dying man I can’t breathe has rallied people to rise us against structural racism. He wasn’t the first to utter them and sadly he won’t be the last. These words were also recorded as the last words of David Dungay Jr, a 26-year-old Dunghutti man from Kempsey, who died in police custody at Long Bay prison hospital in 2015. What does it mean to breathe? To have life in the body and then have it extinguished? The pressure of other bodies on yours, to be held face down, to be unable to move and to cry out with your last gasp of air must surely be terrifying.  We need to bring this story in, Australia.  Yesterday in my city thousands gathered in the Square. This public gathering space is in the shape of a Kaurna shield and its name in Kaurna is Tarntanyangga and the plain on which the city is known as Tandanya – land of red kangaroo dreaming. The square is known as Victoria Square and was named after the British monarch Princess Victoria who went on to become Queen Victoria. Her statue is at one end of the space now and towering above her are the Australian and Aboriginal flags. It is the place that the Aboriginal flag was first flown back on July 12 in 1971 NAIDOC (National Aborigines Day Observance Committee) Week.  I was in year 8 at the school closest to the Square and I can remember it happening as our school celebrated the week and the school I went to run by the Sisters of Mercy were (and continue to be) very involved in justice activities for Aboriginal peoples.  One of the elders Major Moogy Sumner got the crowd to look up to the flag yesterday and tell his story of how he was in the square when it was first flown.

This place was also the place where Pitjantjatjara Elders sat down and met,  before they approached Premier Don Dunstan about their Native Title claim. It took a few more years before the claim was law under Premier Tonkin. In SA we had the first land rights act prior to the 1967 Referendum (Aboriginal Lands Trust Act 1966 (SA) established the South Australian Aboriginal Lands Trust).

These are stories we should all know in South Australia and the square has both names Tarntanyangga/Victoria Square which gives me a lot of encouragement. Yesterday it became worthy of both those names.  Those of us non-indigenous people led by Aboriginal First Nations people, supported by non-indigenous black and brown people, supported by non-indigenous white people was the cadence of the day. I love to see the surge of people coming from all corners arriving into one place, the gathering of all the tribes of humanity under a watchful sky. The square, now a shield completely full and containing us all like a mother who has gathered up all her offspring.  Respect and solidarity were in the air and on everyone’s lips and in the applause and in the silences.

None of us can breath easy until there is a just settlement. It seems so fundamental to me the relationship between the land and people, and separation from land (and sea) manifests in our whole species and other species as well, being unable to breathe.  We have come to this junction brought to our knees by a virus.   I keep cycling back in my thinking to First Nations having borne the brunt of capitalism manifested in colonialism, founded on patriarchy – a kind of universal Father knows Best worldview.

Yesterday the First Nation voices were predominantly women across a number of generations, offering up their pain as a way into us getting a glimpse of what it means to be courageous and driven to use what breath there is in the body to be used to cry out for justice.  I was moved time and time again with the fountain in front of the speakers as it rose and fell and danced with the words. There were times when it seemed the water was programmed exactly to fall silent when space was needed, and rise higher when the applause grew lounder. It was so aligned – the water baptising, healing and washing away and celebrating calling us to renewal. It was profound and poetic. The words from Amos:But let justice roll down like waters,and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream quoted by Martin Luther King in his I have a Dream speech were echoing in my head and then the next speaker was from Memphis telling us his story as a young black man growing up in the shadows of the Lorraine Motel where MLK was assassinated.  I am forever grateful to have visited there as part of the Gospel music tour I did in 2016 with Tony Backhouse. These connections and the universal structural racism I too perpetuate with my everyday white privilege is uncomfortable, but not life threatening. I will never be in a position where I have to fight for my own survival as an individual. 

I took this photo yesterday as I left the rally. The blue sky above and the rising eucalyptus trees grounded in the earth with the flag between them both. Let justice unfurl like a flag.

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Spring Cleaning

Dear Sor Juana,

Young office workers catching the first rays of real sunshine in a while this week basked on the soon to be yellowing grass surrounding the Square. Catching news in real time over tacos, yiros, baguettes and even an old fashioned tomato sandwich, the city was coming to life after a cold winter. Bursts of direct light beamed into conversations bringing delight with it as friendships were warmed, secrets traded and plans made.

At this time of year the notion of spring cleaning comes into its own, after all sunshine is the best disinfectant. The nesting is over, the vines are beginning to sprout and signs of new life are everywhere. But with every beginning the underside is usually an ending or a fading away, where metaphoric palliative care workers make way for midwives. Both of these roles are about being ‘with’ and this seems to be part of the call for the pilgrim – to be with. I am reminded of Emmanuel (God with us) that ancient for the Divine who stands with you against the enemy. In this time of light you know of its presence because of the dark. Sor Juana, how did you greet the new season, leave the dark and come with your God into the light?

Expressing your call to be with lead you to be with those infected by the plague and no amount of sunshine could blast through and take that disease off the streets. Our times have plagues too, with names like Fear, Complicity, Polarity, Scarcity. Getting down to wash those infected by these plagues also risks you catching the disease and requires (for me, anyhow) regular inoculations of good medicine in the company of good people. These are the conversations where we hold and are held, midwifed into warmer days and palliation is dispensed. These are the days to have those conversations to do some spring cleaning, and cleansing, inside and out as we prepare ourselves for the summer ahead – a time of harvest followed by ferment, more true than form following function.

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Bus for Pilgrim

Dear Sor Juana,

Once more I am spending a lot of time in my familiar precinct in my city of Adelaide. So much of my life has been spent around the edges of Victoria Square in various buildings on Wakefield and Flinders Streets. Laneways, verandahs, park benches, lift wells, stairs, sliding doors, like needles through which strands of my life have been threaded. While some of the locations have had makeovers, there is little they can conceal, and my familiarity with them, and them with me, brings an everyday informal embrace.

I wandered over to one of those buildings this week, sliding a door to find a person not even realising or respecting that a meeting was going on – such had been my practice years before. Fortunately I was greeted with a smile and an invitation to step into the space again. This building has changed over the years, a community room has been added, a few more car parks and its interface with its surroundings has created places for the homeless to seek shelter and impatient civil servants to get to their morning coffee quicker. This building is a church – not my church – a church that holds the name for people like me – Pilgrim.

As a teenager I caught the bus from Pilgrim Church. In my twenties and thirties, I sang there and worked with others from the community on social justice issues primarily around apartheid, peace and anti-racism. I have had many friends over the years for whom Pilgrim was and remains their worshipping community. But it was in my teens that I first began my friendship with this place, on the steps with my fellow travellers on the Bowmans bus to and from my home in the north eastern suburbs.   The Lincoln green and dusty gold bus was an insulated community, the bus drivers rosters were more familiar to us than the timetable. We knew them all by name and they knew us. I even babysat for one of them from time to time. Our daily chaperones’ kept us in order and we kept them company. The journey each day to and from school (about 45 minutes each way) was a camino all of its own. We would share stories of what the day might bring in the morning, although the morning commute was a lot quieter than the conversations and debriefs of the day on the way home. Loves were won and lost, homework shared and problems solved together, design and strategy to manage siblings, teachers and parents were mutually exchanged.

The bus was my first experience of community. I learnt what it means to travel and tell stories travelling, to know what it means to start and end a journey, to listen and talk in chapters as sometimes we would have to wait another day (or another week) to hear the next instalment of a tale. I learnt about trust and grew in my own confidence of holding a space and being held by a space. The bus was an incubation chamber and from that place I was able to step into the world where all these buildings around Victoria Square could hold me in all the years to come. The concertina door opening and closing each day and night breathing life into me and squeezing another giggle out of me before heading home. The Bowmans bus, an archer with his arrow, reliably hitting a bullseye into Victoria Square in the morning and at day’s end delivering this pilgrim, with the same precision, to Shepherd Street.  Sor Juana, only now do I see the imagery of this bus for this pilgrim.

Bowmans Bus in front of Pilgrim Church - amazing what you can find on line!

Bowmans Bus in front of Pilgrim Church – amazing what you can find on line!