He was recounting the history of the “War of Extermination” waged by white people against the Aborigines which marked much of the first 200 years of European settlement. While the reality of this history is deeply regretted by most thinking Australians, incidents like the attacks on Adam Goodes reveal that this racism still resides in the hearts of a few; a few who are too many to be ignored or countenanced.
If, as Grant asserts, we are better than this, then it is high time we demonstrated it, not by dwelling on the sad history of the past, but by acknowledging it and working to put to rights the wrongs visited upon the race who managed and nurtured this land for at least 40,000 years.
In doing this, not only would we be taking the first step in establishing a more just and equitable society, but restoring a balance between the rights of not only the indigenous peoples but also of the rest of us; immigrants who, drawn from every nation on earth, make up our nation, Australia.
When Pope Francis leads us in prayer to “…rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth…” (A prayer for our earth, Laudato Si’ 246) he is certainly referring to the poor of all the nations, but I feel sure that his vision would encompass not only our indigenous brothers and sisters, but also all those other Australians so heavily affected by the assaults upon our land by mining developments. These are government approved but totally inappropriate and hugely destructive. Not only do they lack a social licence, but they replicate in many ways the savagery visited upon our First People by the war that Stan Grant described.
So it is clear we are speaking of what Pope Francis calls “our common home”.
He goes on to say that the “…the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (Laudato Si’, 14). The well-being of the planet, and of all those who dwell upon it, are inextricably linked. What we do to the land, and what we did to its original occupants are sides of the one coin. As we sow, so shall we reap. We need look no further than the sad state of the Great Barrier Reef for example and similarly the fact that while the Aborigines make up some three per cent of the population, they represent 25 per cent of prison inmates. It seems that we have some way to go before we can rest on our oars.
On the other hand I believe that we have this year an unmissable opportunity to let our politicians know they have largely failed us in their stewardship and care of our country and its many diverse people, and that we and they together, by heeding the leadership of Francis and the many Australians committed to a better way, can share his vision, “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love….Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.” (LS 84)
Let us accept it.
Greg Doepel is a parishioner of St Joseph’s Parish, Gloucester.