VACY VLAZNA. On Becoming Australian: A Migrant Story, Part 2

Co-host of ABC Minefield, Scott Stevens astutely, impeccably summed up the generosity inherent in The Uluru Statement of the Heart.

On Becoming Australian he continued.

“Given the fact that it bases its appeal to the nation, its invitation for an ongoing process of dialogue and listening. The fact that it grounds itself on the metaphysical basis of a spiritual notion of sovereignty. I mean, it can have every reason then to then say that this spiritual notion of sovereignty, a notion of sovereignty that was never ceded, that was never extinguished, this is something then that undercuts the legitimacy of commonwealth sovereignty, instead of doing that which would have been, I think, morally defensible …

Then what it does instead, is I think an extraordinary act of political hospitality like we are never again likely to see in our lifetimes. It then holds out the possibility of simultaneous or coexistent sovereignties.

What could have then been received as a moment of quite remarkable hospitality and a call for almost a sort of political companionship, for that, then, have been treated with disdain, and contempt, again, we are unlikely to see that kind of political betrayal in our lifetime.”

Hospitality and generosity are instinctive and lore in First Nations’ culture. This becomes extraordinary, even super-extraordinary when juxtaposed to the meanness and moral deficit of the government; consider the Indigenous issuance of the Aboriginal Passport to refugees and to the asylum-seeker hostages on Manus. Australia’s reputation as the land of the fair go is on life-support; the gift of the Aboriginal passport sets the true moral response to the plight of asylum-seekers. I am proud to have one.

Apropos, along the way, the shame I felt for my ignorance was ameliorated by the genuine and generous Indigenous outreach of inclusivity,

“What’s really important for all Australians to know is that, believe it or not, if you are born of this land, you are of this land, you have a responsibility to this land and you have a right to know; colour never has anything to do with it. Why learn about other cultures before you learn about your own spiritual heritage, history and traditions of 60,000 years?” Minmia, Wirradjirri Elder

Speaking of the insignificance of colour, anti-racist educator Jane Elliott asserts that, “Racism is mental illness…that you judge other people by the colour of their skin, by the amount of a chemical [melanin] in their skin, you have a mental problem.”

The cruelty inflicted because of a pigment is sick and sickening.

Denial too is a mental disorder and the denial that Australia is racist as well as the denial of climate change, both of which threaten human life, border on sociopathic impairment. Paradoxically, respecting the Longest Living Culture on Earth and learning from the grit and genius of Indigenous guardianship would go a long way to heal the land and the Australian soul.

When traversing Australia by plane across the vestiges of megaforests, over the remote coastlines and far-flung islands, above the rugged grandeur of the Kimberley wilderness, the spectacular terrain of the Ikara-Flinders Ranges and the vast ochre mars-scape of the Central Desert, I am profoundly in awe of First Australians’ survival that left no carbon footprint over millennia.

Not so for 232 years of rapacious European settlement. It not only failed to turn Aboriginals white, but the industrious turning of Australia’s unparalleled unique beauty into an ‘antipodean version’ of Olde England has rammed the boot of climate change on our throats; the wild colonial boys cleared millions of hectares of the earth’s leafy lungs and native habitats attuned to ecological balance for cattle and sheep. Now, once living rivers are sold, siphoned off and de-hydrated for unsustainable cotton farms, non-native feral animal infestations add to Australia’s highest rate of wildlife extinction.

Fracking is toxifying aquifers and food farms. Opening Adani will inflict death throes on the stunning Great Barrier Reef. Mining- our national melanoma has contaminated 150,000 sites and is revving up the pestilence of the climate crisis: record-breaking heatwaves, apocalyptic bushfires and storms on steroids, crazed cyclones, flooding, merciless drought. All the aforesaid are making Australia a necropolis of the extinct and humans are in the queue.

Progress is important and a tribute to human innovation and ingenuity. Progress in Australia alongside Indigenous environmental science is intelligent. But rapacious carpe diem capitalism indifferent to the environment is foreclosing on our children’s future.

I recently went to Uluru, not on holiday, but on a pilgrimage. Uluru is formidable in presence and beauty. It is Sacred. Sacred too is the infinity of sky and red desert dust awash with a dazzling ultra-brightness that sears direct to the back of the eyes. It took me days to readjust to the dullness of Sydney’s green world.

To non-Indigenous eyes Uluru sits in the centre of perilous emptiness sans supermarkets and pharmacies in which non-Indigenous folks could not survive a week; but men, women and children survived there for sixty plus Millenia! And here’s the rub – these are the people who have copped the brunt of bog-white arrogance, racism, vilification and humiliation.

The instinctive skill of Indigenous survival reminds me of the astonishing scenes in the documentary, Putuparri and the Rainmakers, when after a six day journey by car across the vast Kimberley desert, (Six days!) Wangkajunka Elder, Spider Snell and his old mates, who’d been taken away from country for 40 years, stop the convoy, in what is to me, the middle of nowhere, walk for a while, greet the Spirits then begin digging in the hard ground and behold dry sand, becomes damp, then a trickle, then a pool of water!

This was not magic, this was knowledge and self-knowledge at that. Country and identity for Spider is One. The One is Sacred. It is knowing that the forces of life are in everything. Everything is alive with Spirit. Everything informs survival. It is an alien consciousness for Christians, the settler religion, where the sacred has been locked up in churches and relegated to somewhere in the sky and the earth is man’s dominion. Indigenous peoples belong to, not own, Country.

Now that I am discovering lost knowledge, I am bloody angry that I was groomed to live most of my life myopic and ignorant of the Peoples whose country was, and is, always beneath my feet – supporting my very existence.

In their honour, in respect for never ceding their land and sovereignty, I proudly tender my home address as Street, Collaroy, 2097, Guringai Country. So should we all.

We are many who are on the journey to Truth-telling and Respect. There is so much hope for coming together, for healing, for non-Indigenous spiritual empowerment and for Indigenous empowerment for rights fixed in justice.

Take a moment to imagine what would be Australia’s spirit and Australian identity today, if early settlement had been founded on respect for the First Nations, respect for their spiritual belonging to and care for their land and culture, and that respect was followed through to this present day?

At the very least, the choice of our national anthem would be different: it would reflect and advance respect and inclusivity as does the rousing, I am Australian. When I hear this song, as with Gurrumul’s Wiyathul, my skin comes alive like first rain on dusty earth.

We are one
But we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We share a dream
And sing with one voice
I am, you are, we are Australian

Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001.

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