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Australia Day reflection

On Australia Day we remember the arrival of the first fleet to Australia and the subsequent occupation of Australia by the settlers.

It is an opportunity to celebrate the courage, energy, generosity and wisdom shown in the development of Australia. It is also an opportunity to remember the loss suffered by the first owners of the land, the brutality of their dispossession, and their bravery, endurance and persistence in the face of disadvantage.

Those two conflicting aspects of our founding story mean that Australia Day can never be an occasion of unmindful celebration. It is a time for reflection on who we are as Australians and what matters to us.

The way we shape our Australian future must be based on the conviction that each human being is precious and that the human dignity of each is equally to be respected whatever their racial origin, their religion or their wealth. In our history people have struggled long to change discriminatory laws, economic relations and customs. Much work remains to be done.

Australia’s future must also be shaped by hospitality to one another, to people who claim our protection and our natural environment. The beginnings of European occupation were characterised by conquest, not by hospitality. A land, seen as inhospitable, was cleared and exploited. Its first owners, seen as savage, were expelled and made marginal. People from our region were seen as potentially hostile and excluded.

On Australia Day we can celebrate our growth in our acceptance of the need for reconciliation with the first owners of our land, our past hospitality to refugees, and our growing recognition that our environment is fragile, is at risk from climate change and needs nurturing. But the way in which we now treat asylum seekers and our focus on narrow self-interest remind us that awareness must lead to conversion, and conversion lead us to change our way of life and our institutions.

On Australia Day we welcome the tennis players, the cricketers and the footballers of the world. That is the emblem of the attentive hospitality we are called to build into our culture and our economy.

– Andy Hamilton SJ