For many years now there has been a debate about the appropriateness of celebrating Australia Day. This is because it is also remembered by Aboriginal Australians as Invasion Day or Survival Day. For many this debate falls on deaf ears. It seems distant from the invitation to have a day off, enjoy the summer sun and share around a BBQ. Nonetheless, it remains an important debate because how we recognize our sense of being Australian can far too easily exclude some, especially the first peoples. Celebrating Australia Day can far too easily fail to recognize the tragic history of dispossession and violence.
In the Scriptures Jesus speaks, in possibly his first sermon in Nazareth, of the ‘year of the Lord’s favor’. This is often taken to mean the year of Jubilee which was a time of restitution and reinstatement, a re-balancing of imbalance that can occur in a community. As an Australian community there have been steps towards restitution and restoration with Aboriginal and Islander people’s taken – Paul Keating’s speech in Redfern, the Native Title Act and the apology by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
As the Uniting Church in Australia we have also grappled with this issue of our history. Establishing the UAICC was an important step, as was the Covenant made in 1988 and then more recently the decision to add an Preamble to our Constitution, which recognized First Peoples. In these things, the Uniting Church has sought to witness to that ‘year of the Lord’s favor’ which Jesus proclaims and, so also, invites us to participate in.
How ever you decide to relax and celebrate on Australia Day in this multicultural, multi ethnic, pluralist society remember that for some Australians it is also a day of mourning and a day of remembering an unwelcome Invasion. It is a day of honoring ‘Survival’ against the odds. Maybe pausing to take stock of this awkward truth is another step towards the recognition and reconciliation that we still long for, a step towards the year of Jubilee.