Last Sunday my five year old grandson experienced a whole bundle of ‘firsts’, beginning with a 45 minute train ride and culminating in a stage production of “The Tiger Who Came to Tea’. For those few hours I got to see the world from the perspective of a five year old. We waited, impatiently, for the train, in a queue to pick up our theatre tickets, for the tiger to make his appearance on stage. I answered questions about scary tunnels and underground stations, about the difference between a young woman soliciting money from train passengers and the talented buskers we saw, and enjoyed his wonder, delight and his complete absorption in the moment as the story unfolded on stage.
This child lives in an outer Melbourne suburb, travels door to door by car and is lucky enough to spend time on a country property owned by a great aunt and uncle. That’s his Australia. I don’t know what impressions he will carry away from our day out, but I marveled at the diversity of the crowds that swirled around us on that summer Sunday afternoon.
They strolled – in couples, in family groups, wheeling strollers, holding hands, licking ice creams, taking photos, smiling, calling children back, their skin tones ranging between Celtic paleness and African brown, and every colour in between. This diversity was Australia too. I was reminded of the words of the prophet Eziekel: “I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.”
Like many others, my family emigrated here from England and Ireland in the early 1840s. Since those early days, sometimes gradually, sometimes in great spurts, we have been joined by Europeans fleeing the aftermath of two world wars, followed later by people from the Philippines, Asia, South America, Africa, the Middle East. But whenever they came and wherever they came from, the cost of migrating has meant loss – a loss of country, of property, of respect and community solidarity. The vision of freedom and security that inspired the move to the end of the world cost their extended families, familiar language, food that suits their metabolism, everyday links with a shared childhood, cultural traditions. But we came and we stayed. We called ourselves Australians.
This is the Australia my grandson Jack is growing up in. At their pre-school graduation he and his his ‘league of nations’ classmates sang the Australian national anthem with great gusto. As Jack moves through his school years I would hope that the Australia he calls home will once again open her borders to receive those who hunger for the freedom and peace that has been denied them in the land of their birth.
I hope, too, that Jack will grow in appreciation of the sacred story that God has written across this land, a story whose storylines the first people of this wide brown land have sung for thousands of years. I know that there is no question of non-Aboriginals appropriating the Dreaming, but, as Eugene Stockton said in an article published in 1988, “ If I was born in this land, by Aboriginal belief I have pre-existed here like them from the timeless Dreaming. So, on their reckoning, I have with them a common bond and common spiritual roots in this continent, although racial roots through my parents, lie elsewhere.“
Wherever your racial roots lie, this Australia Day say a prayer of thanks for the brave men and women who decided to call Australia home.