By: Clare Bruce
In an interview with Stairway Church in Melbourne, Christian indigenous artist Safina Stewart explains why indigenous Australians – although they deeply love their nation – mourn each year on January 26.
She urges all Australians to take time to recognise what Australia Day means to the indigenous people, and to attend an Aboriginal cultural event and learn a little more about their nation’s history.
“In the history of Australia, the 26th of January is not a day of celebration for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait people,” she explains. “It is the day that we were invaded in 1788… so we have a great day of mourning on Australia Day.
“We feel the loss of our land, and our place, and our significance as a people… the loss of our babies, our parents, our grandparents, our great-great-great grandparents, our heroes. We feel the loss of our culture and expression of our culture. And so it’s actually a day of feeling very lost.
“And we’re in the midst of a country that puts on fireworks and parties and barbecues, and celebrates with beer and sunscreen and bikinis and beach – and we’re left gobsmacked, feeling very forgotten, feeling very disempowered.
“So Australia Day is actually a sad day for us and we try the best we can to hold strong to our sense of dignity and pride.”
Not Unlike Anzac Day – A Day of Remembrance and Survival
Through tears, Safina say Aboriginal and Torres Strait people look hard for things to celebrate, such as the survival, resilience and achievements of their people, with many “Survival Day” events being held around the nation.
“We look at Australia Day similarly to Anzac Day – where we remember the soldiers of the past who gave themselves up, who were killed, murdered, raped, pillaged, stolen from, but who taught us down through the generations that we are who we are and we cannot lose that: no matter if its watered down through bloodline, no matter if it’s stripped out of us, beaten out of us, taught out of us, manipulated out of us,” she said.
“There’s a lot to be proud of because we’ve survived, and my prayer is not only that we can survive as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait nation but that we can thrive – and what we can offer would be embraced by the broader Australian community.”
Connect With Indigenous People; Be Their Friend
Safina stressed that indigenous people as the First Nations people of Australia, deeply love, welcome and “have tender hearts towards” Australia’s many cultures, and they desire to be one. But she believes that only God’s grace and love can help our nation’s many cultures to reconcile and live in peace and unity with one another.
“I see that we can’t do it unless we are embedded in Jesus,” Safina said. “He’s our only hope.”
When asked how Australians can better respect the indigenous experience on Australia Day, Safina said the key is friendship.
“I have many friends who are not indigenous what I appreciate about them is that they’re friends,” she said. “They live life in and amongst my family. They pray for us, they think of us, they do community with us, they love us in action as well as in words.
“Be our friend, think of us, pray for us, connect with us and love us in your word and action. The worst thing you can do is put us out of your mind, the worst thing you can do is try to forget us, ignore us. If you’re angry at us, that’s’ fine, just come and talk to us.
“Connect with us. Learn about indigenous culture. Do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do to remember us.”
Christians are encouraged to attend a “Change the Heart” church service in the lead up to Australia Day.