Over the past week I have been listening to people comment on the speech given by journalist, Stan Grant, on the issue of Indigenous reconciliation and racism.
I watched it today and found Mr Grant’s words compelling, sad, difficult and necessary. I would urge all Australians to take the 8 minutes it requires to listen to the speech in full.
In Mr Grant’s voice there was heart-felt honesty but no self-pity, anger but not rage, truth-telling but not condescension.
As a preacher I am aware of the tenure of peoples’s reactions to words; forgetfulness often quickly follows acknowledgement. A problem with speeches like Mr Grant’s is that we are moved by them, and for a few days we agree with them and believe that action needs to follow, but soon enough we have forgotten those beliefs and emotions, and words, and nothing changes.
For example, in 2009 Rev Dr Peter Adam gave the John Saunders Lecture. He spoke on the issue of indigenous peoples in Australia, and in particular he addressed the issue of land ownership and recompense:
“No recompense could ever be satisfactory because what was done was so vile, so immense, so universal, so pervasive, so destructive, so devastating and so irreparable.’’
‘We European Australians often claim that one of the strengths of the Australian character is ‘caring for the underdog’. That claim is hypocrisy – we do not act with justice, let alone care.”
At the time, Adam’s lecture gained attention in the media, with it being reported in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. I remember it well because it was the first time I was convicted to think seriously about reconciliation issues with Indigenous Australians.
Will this be another speech remembered for its oratory or for the change it brought to this country?
The God whom I know and worship is the God who made the heavens and earth, and who made all humanity in his image.
It was out of this theological conviction that Martin Luther King cried,
‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’
This God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world because humanity was bent on throwing away the dignity of the imago dei. Humanity’s actions have resulted in the belittling of human life in a thousand different ways, including the abhorrent belief of racial inferiority
We cannot live in the past, but living in the present can remain most hard when our history remains unresolved. To this, I am looking forward to the Day when God will put away forever all that is wrong and evil, but in the present we remain responsible for our words and actions, and to ignore the call for reconciliation when it is given us, is simply iniquitous.
At this time, let us re-issue calls to include in our national constitution a statement recognising the first Australians. Of course, the wording of such an inclusion is incredibly important, and so instead of deferring it because the task is complex, let’s move forward.
Also, January 26th is our national holiday, and on this day I will give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy in our country. It does seem as though the date has evolved beyond the tall ships in Botany Bay, as it is now cherished by many thousands of immigrants who have no connection to 1788, but who have made their home here from all corners on the globe and who celebrate becoming citizens on this date. But I am still conscious of the fact that for many Indigenous people, ‘Australia Day’ is not so celebratory.
Are we so tied to this date that we cannot move to another?
I have heard it suggested that we should make Federation Day our national day. It’s not a bad idea, except that it’s January 1st!
These two changes may be symbolic, but they are also tangible expressions to our fellow Australians that we recognise their pain, we acknowledge past sins, and we are eager to pursue reconciliation.