Headlines in the media this week have featured a range of perspectives on modern Australia. A typically summer headline is that Queensland is bracing for the arrival and impact of tropical cyclone Kirrily. Meanwhile the main political headlines have been about changes to Stage 3 tax cuts and whether a fairer distribution is more to be welcomed than a broken election promise. And in sport there have been headlines about Australian cricketers daring to have a view on 26th January as the most appropriate day to celebrate Australia Day. Which begs the question as to whether and why this date should mark our national day when it has long been observed as a day of mourning for Indigenous people rather than a day to celebrate.
So what are we really celebrating on this day? A common suggestion is that we are simply relishing the opportunity for a long weekend at the end of the summer holidays before the year proper starts. A more reflective response might be that we are celebrating that Australia is a modern, multicultural, prosperous and peaceful nation where we welcome everyone – whether immigrants or refugees – from all around the world. This suggestion is partly true and partly myth, as our treatment of Indigenous people and asylum seekers has often been shameful and cruel. Another suggestion, often overlooked in the debate about the date, is that we are celebrating being home to the oldest living cultures on the planet in our Indigenous peoples and there is much to be learned from their resilience, wisdom and connection with country.
But even as we pause to celebrate Australia Day, we are reminded that Australia is in the main a highly secular country and the influence and presence of Christian faith is steadily declining. Our challenge as followers of Jesus is not so much to focus on how we might survive or find new relevance in modern Australia, but to remain faithful to Jesus’ call to love God and love our neighbour (Mark 12:28-34). As we do this we will contribute to and build a more just and compassionate nation whose place in the world is worth celebrating.