It is Sunday evening and I have just come in from the Hiroshima Day Service at the Adamstown Uniting Church which was coordinated by an ecumenical group of people known as ‘Christians for Peace’. They have been gathering to mark this day for the past 30 years in order to highlight our need to work together for peace and justice in Australia and the world. I felt very much at home, because to my surprise, I knew a lot of people there and our prayer was heartfelt. Many of those who gathered for this prayer are part of my network of Ecumenical, Social Justice and Interfaith friends.

Many of you would be aware of the dropping of the atomic bombs on both Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945), which technically brought an end to the War in the Pacific Region. However, the Hiroshima bomb killed and destroyed over 100,000 people, and the land of the city. I hope it is not lost on you that August 6 is the day in our liturgical year in which we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord – “This is my son, my beloved, in whom I delight. Listen to him.”

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been writing to you about the power of story-telling and indeed today I was once again reminded of it by listening to Fr Frank Brennan SJ, who gave us the message at the Hiroshima Day Service, and also by our preparation for our own Australian Plenary Council. There are some of us presently working on our diocesan process for this dialogue and listening encounter.

I hope you are conscious of the Garma festival which has been taking place, from 3 - 6 August at Gulkula. It is in its 20th year and its aim is to bring together families from across Arnhem Land for an annual celebration of Yolngu culture. The theme for this year’s Festival was about truth-telling.

So in my consciousness in putting this message together, I have held a number of the experiences of past few weeks, and then when Fr Frank Brennan spoke the words of the Australian author Richard Flanagan about being entwined, I knew I needed to share these words with you. Richard was a guest of the Yothu Yindi Foundation at a dinner held during the Garma festival on 4 August. His speech is recorded in full in The Guardian and can be found here.

His speech was titled: The world is being undone before us. If we do not reimagine Australia, we will be undone too.

I will share with you only part of this speech and it comes from the words which Fr Frank spoke at the Hiroshima Service. But before doing that, I will begin with the words at the end of his speech, because they spoke to me of what we are being called to for the Plenary Council, and I don’t think we are being called to this just for our church, but for the whole of Australia. It is an opportunity for us to hear the voice of the people, and to act for all Australians, and possibly, for a more global context. We are being called to be a more outward looking people, a people who bring God’s mission to the margins.

Richard Flanagan says:

Yothu yindi. Garma. Makarrata. Yolgnu words that mean: coming together. Working together. Making peace together. This is our indispensable task as a nation and we cannot shirk it one more day. It is our time. Let us begin our country, as nobly as we are able, with kindness, with courage, with love of brother and sister for brother and sister. Let us seize the fire.

The Plenary Council of Australia, and our own diocesan Synod, are about bringing people together, and walking with each other.

As part of his speech, he uses the following words:

And Australia as a nation, after 200 years, is faced with a fundamental truth. We are now entwined peoples; by custom, by humour, by friendship, by love, by work and by sport, in art, in music, in words, and through the land; in all these ways we have over 200 years found ourselves in each other.

Black and white, we have become kin. We cannot be selfish.

And because we are kin it is not possible for white Australia to pretend that it is not damaged by the war that so damages black Australia, that it is not crippled by the same wounds, that it too is not rendered oddly mute by the same silence.

We should aspire as a nation to the hard-won knowledge that a war that began over 200 years ago can now be ended, and with it the crimes, the violence, the massacres, the murders, the rapes, the stolen children, the smashed Dreamings, all this can finally become history rather than an enduring present.

We can belong here if we choose to anchor our identity in Indigenous Australia’s history, a history that must include the cost of the invasion – and the path to that new identity is saying yes to the Uluru statement.

Indigenous Australia is offering the possibility of completing our commonwealth of Australia, a commonwealth brutally deformed at its birth by its exclusion of its First Nations.

Commonwealth is an old middle English word that derives from an older word, commonweal, which was understood as a general good that was shared, a common well-being. It suggests a mutuality and shared strength. It evokes relationships, the idea of a common inheritance. It is, you could argue, the counterpoint to the Yolngu word for selfishness, (gurrutumiriw) for lack of kinship. Commonwealth is kinship.

It is to a completed commonwealth that I wish to belong. A commonwealth not just of states but more fundamentally a commonwealth of kin, a commonwealth of the Dreaming, of 60,000 years of civilisation. That’s the land I want to walk to, and it’s time we began the journey along the path Indigenous Australia has with grace shown us. To tomorrow. To hope.

I believe we are being invited to reimagine and to reawaken the great spirit of this ancient land of which we are guests. It is story that connects us, the ancient, the old and the new. As Flanagan says, “it is a terrible story, a story of shame, but it is my story as much as it is your story, and it must be told, and it must be learned, because freedom exists in the space of memory, and only by walking back into the shadows is it possible for us all to finally be free.”

I encourage you to look at some of the photographic images on The Guardian website of this festival. They capture the story and the beauty and the mystery.

With thanks to Christians for Peace, the Uniting Church, Fr Frank Brennan, Richard Flanagan, The Guardian, Tracey Edstein, Vivien Williams for assisting me with the words that have ended up in this message. I am blessed to be in this role and to experience so much. Thanks for allowing me to share this with you.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.