The National Aboriginal Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) grew out of the recognition that the celebration of Australia Day presented a one-sided image of Australia’s history. It focused narrowly on the disruption to existing culture and life in Australia through the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney cove. It grew into a national public holiday.
NAIDOC Week embodies the desire of Indigenous Australians to celebrate the rich Indigenous cultures that preceded the European conquest and which continue today to be an all-important strand in Australian identity. Each year the Indigenous Committee names a theme for the week. This year ‘Songlines: the Living Narrative of Our Nation’ takes us into the heart of our Indigenous cultures.
Those of us without Indigenous roots often find it hard to enter imaginatively the world of Indigenous Australians, with feel for the interconnectedness of our human world and our natural environment.
This is expressed in a deep attention to landmarks, flora and fauna, and is encapsulated in the stories that provide a map for people to live in peace with one another and with the world, their home. The Indigenous map is part of our Australian inheritance. It is important for all Australians to enter it out of respect.
Reflecting on the Indigenous understanding of the world also illuminates weaknesses in the dominant strands of our Australian culture. Our world, like that of other nations founded from Europe, focuses on competitive individuals, often devaluing the importance of their connection with other people and with the environment of which they are part. In this world each individual needs to draw the maps that will guide their own lives and our relationships. This can be a lonely and alienating task in which other people are seen as rivals to be wrestled with, and the world as something to be exploited for profit.
NAIDOC Week reminds us that we are not simply individuals, but that we belong to one another. To make a good Australian future we must work cooperatively at mapmaking. Our map will detail our relationships with one another and to our environment.
NAIDOC Week asks us to explore the songlines that mark what is deep in our lives. It invites us to reach back to the Paradise Places that we associate with discovery of something more, to the stories of commitment to the common good, to the music and the poetry of our lives, and to the tradition we inherit that helps us to set our lives into a larger story. NAIDOC invites us to explore to share that story as we attend to the stories told by an earlier people. It is about respect.
This post is written by Andrew Hamilton, SJ.