Reconciliation Week offers us the opportunity to come to terms with past actions and develop a deep understanding of what it truly means to be “In This Together”, writes ANDY HAMILTON SJ.

The theme of Reconciliation Week this year is In This Together. The celebration of the week is likely to be subdued, a victim of the restrictions imposed on us by the Coronavirus. In fact, we are all more likely to be out of this together than in it. If so, the subdued character of the celebration would echo even better the stories that underlie Reconciliation Week than would a more uninhibited one.

The 1967 Referendum and the 1992 Mabo case show how far the recognition of the rights of Indigenous Australians has had to come since the white settlers arrived, and how much more needs to be done. Indigenous Australians would argue that they were never in this together, but were excluded at every turn, receiving as privileges what everybody else enjoyed as rights.

For this reason it is a tribute to the generosity of spirit of Indigenous communities that the Reconciliation Week slogan is so positive. It invites us to ask what it means to say to our friends or fellow Australians, ‘We are in this together’. Easy words, but not so easy to put into practice. In our time of isolation, however, we have vivid images of what it looks like to be in it together in the selfless commitment of doctors, nurses and other direct care workers, through the simple ways in which people look after others in need by buying for them, ringing them and in many similar ways.

We have also seen hints of what it looks like to be in it together in government actions. They made it clear that saving lives is more important than making wealth, and have appealed to the common good when putting the restrictions on our freedom that have caused much pain and loss.

This is the kind of thinking and action that Reconciliation Week calls for. It calls on us to acknowledge that indeed we are all in this together, that at many times and in many places we have not previously been so, and that in the future our hearts must change.

Reconciliation cannot be a papering over of past actions and injuries but the recognition and coming to terms of them. It means acknowledging that the history of our past relationships has been marked by dispossession, violence and discrimination. It led to inequality and separation, to a world in which Indigenous Australians had little agency. In such conditions people can be in the same room together, but not in any deeper sense be in this together.

If this Reconciliation Week brings us all closer to a shared understanding and empathy about our history and a determination similar to that shown in the response to the Coronavirus, it will have been worthwhile no matter how restricted our celebration of it might be.

At Jesuit Social Services we are in this together as fellow staff members and with our Indigenous brothers sisters for whom we work in many of our programs. Those of us at a distance have held each other in our hearts in this time of isolation. We commit ourselves to find more ways of being in this together in the time of recovery.