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On Australia Day

Australia Day matters. It is good for a nation to have a day on which we can celebrate the gift of our land and of the good and diverse people who have helped shape it. It can be an occasion for healing divisions and making promises.

Chief among Australia’s unhealed divisions are those between the descendants of the first Australians and those of the settlers and of later arrivals. The first Australians were dispossessed by the guns and laws of the settlers, decimated by the sicknesses that they brought, and alienated from all that composed their culture. The wounds they and their descendants have carried remain unhealed.

The association of Australia Day with the arrival of the First Fleet, the first storm of the Indigenous Australian winter, cannot heal wounds. It inevitably rubs salt in them. It is not a shared, carefree celebration but one marked by increasing controversy and resentment. For Australians to mark this as our day of national unity and celebration is as counterproductive as it would be for a reunited Ireland to make its national day the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne or of the Dublin Uprising.

At Jesuit Social Services we are privileged to include Indigenous Australians among our workers and those with whom we work. They are teaching us the demanding lessons of what healing and national unity demand. Together we join the growing number of Australians who demand the transfer of Australia Day from the date of the arrival of the First Fleet. That remains a day to be recalled, pondered and its significance debated. But not a day for our national festival.

– Andy Hamilton SJ