That’s the theme of National Reconciliation week. Truth and justice are not comfortable walking companions but they are necessary components in a journey that leads towards wholeness and healing. Psychological and Spiritual. I have spent time in quite a few countries where truth avoided is justice denied. Sri Lanka. Cambodia. Myanmar. Sth Africa. England. Ireland. Australia. None of them have done a great job of telling the truth. Truth tends to be very inconvenient. Especially truth associated with the tragic and brutal impacts of colonization, which in essence is all about invading and occupying for the benefit of some empire.
A classic example of a truth denied lies in the lyrics to our national anthem. The song by which we are known around the world.
Now, I realise I am at risk of offending but hear me out. I’ve never been comfortable with singing any national anthem. I was asked to leave a cinema in Cambridge once because I did not stand up for ‘God save our gracious Queen’. I’ve never been a fan of nationalism or rampant patriotism. History has taught me that both have been the incubator of all wars.
Which is why I think Indigenous NRL player Cody Walker , is to be applauded for his public refusal to sing the anthem at the next state of origin encounter. It offends him and his family.
The 2nd line goes “for we are young and free” – as if Australia began with the arrival of the invaders.
The line is a complete denial of a critical truth – the continuing existence of one of the oldest living cultures on the planet; at least 60,000 years of uninterrupted human connection to this land.
Whenever we say “ We gather on the land of the Wurundjeri people” we affirm that particular truth. But it needs to mean so much more than words. Reconciliation can not be advanced until the idea that ‘we are young and free’ has been replaced with a sentiment that reflects a very inconvenient truth – the traditional custodians of this land were systematically removed, killed and were denied their freedom.
On this day, let us remember Eddie Mabo and pray for courage for Ken Wyatt.
Ken is the first Indigenous cabinet minister in the history of the Commonwealth government and the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives when elected in 2010 as the member for Hasluck, WA. He is now the first Indigenous person to be minister for Indigenous Australians. The short history of Indigenous involvement in Australia’s political community is one of exclusion. But that exclusion was never because Indigenous people lacked persistence and ability. Ken’s appointed marks the start of a hopefully new chapter in our troubled history of denying truth.