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Mention the words ‘Australia Day’ in 2023 and it can be a BBQ stopper! Even cricketers are saying they feel uneasy about the date. Perhaps the inescapable truth is that it simply represents the day on which English people claimed this land.

That said, someone once described Australia to me as a land with Aboriginal footprints all over it. The mountains, rivers, the hills and valleys have all been traversed by them; by tribes, the families and individuals. Every nook and cranny of this land has been known and loved by Aboriginal people. The First Nations song lines stretch the length and breadth of the continent and even the stars in the sky have a name, and the clusters tell a story.

The past is gone, but a reckoning is coming

However there’s no going back to an idealised past now. That unique past disappeared rapidly from 26 January 1788. Australia is now a multicultural nation, albeit one that has never come to terms openly and honestly with its recent history.

But as sure as the nose on your face, that reckoning is coming. Indeed, Australia Day 2023 raises questions about fairness.

Fifty years ago I had an Aboriginal mate, Cliff. He was one of the stolen generation. He never knew his parents. Life had been hard for Cliff and he ended up alcoholic – homeless on the streets. Nonetheless, Cliff was one of the most loving people I have ever met. We would often sit together, sometimes in my office, but sometimes in the gutter on the street. We would talk about this country and everything in it. What struck me was his forgiveness.

Love is the answer

I have often noticed people who have suffered great wrongs realise returning hate is not the answer. It gets you nowhere and eats you up inside. They realise the answer is loving kindness. They realise they don’t have to stoop to the lowness of their oppressor.

Cliff taught me a lot about the power of love, particularly when my marriage busted up. I was sitting, gutted on my doorstep. Not knowing what to do or say. The word bereft doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings at that time. Then looming out of the darkness came Cliff.

“Ahhh mate,” he said “I heard what’s happened and it’s terrible.” As he was speaking, he moved to sit “I’ll sit with you for as long as it takes.”

Even now that simple, loving gesture fills me with tears. I can never repay him for the enormous amount of time and effort he took sitting with me; just so I wouldn’t be alone in my emptiness.

I have seen that same loving kindness over and over again in Aboriginal people. Many of my favourite memories are of sitting around a burning fire at The Block in Redfern.

There, stories would be told of authorities grabbing children from screaming mothers, and tears would be shed. But in amongst them were other stories, happier ones that would also be told.

And in those times we would sit and stare at the flames and love one another. What more could you want than that?

Cliff died while I was in Theological College, and his body was scooped up and buried in an unmarked grave outside the city limits. I will never be able to find it, but he lives on in my heart. Every day I think of him in gratitude.

So what to make of Australia Day 2023?

This Australia Day I’m thinking about so many of my experiences with Aboriginal people. Indeed, Rachel Perkins’ brilliant documentary “The Australia Wars” seems just the beginning of a truth telling and ultimate reconciliation which must surely come.

On Australia Day I will be pondering the good and the bad which is Australia – and yes there is bad, despite the jingoistic refusal to admit it. Maybe it will become known as Sorry Day or maybe it won’t. Maybe Australia Day will change to another day or maybe it won’t.

But as Cliffy used to say, “I’m a lover, not a fighter”. Whatever happens, I know that love will win.

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  1. Diana Gearside 25 January 2023 at 10:42 - Reply

    Day of reflection that is for sure and love is the answer!

  2. Linda Adair 25 January 2023 at 11:34 - Reply

    Yes we need love to sort this out and not the noise of the haters who are trying to stop the act generosity of the Uluhru Statement from the Heart. Thank you Rev Bill.

  3. James Wyatt 25 January 2023 at 11:47 - Reply

    Very well said Bill.

  4. Sheryl Taylor 25 January 2023 at 12:19 - Reply

    Maybe Australia Day should be known as sorry day in the future, but I will think above the aborigines as they have a place in my heart.

  5. Gary Dale 25 January 2023 at 13:00 - Reply

    Thank you Bill …

  6. Phil Ryan 25 January 2023 at 14:04 - Reply

    All HAIL and HONOUR TO Cliff

    • Bill Crews 17 February 2023 at 16:49 - Reply

      God Bless you, mate. I just came across some more of Cliff’s letters to me yesterday

  7. Bruce Wall 25 January 2023 at 14:16 - Reply

    Migration of tribes to other lands has always occurred. It is natural and valid to be curious and explore the other side of the hill. Poor treatment of our Australian Aboriginals was/is wrong but settlement of the wandering tribes is natural id not.

  8. Noel McGarrity 25 January 2023 at 14:17 - Reply

    Dear Mr Crews,
    Thank you for sharing ❤️
    Noel ☺️

  9. Hugh 25 January 2023 at 15:05 - Reply

    Well said, Bill. I have felt it too.

  10. Rosalie 25 January 2023 at 16:45 - Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  11. Dale 25 January 2023 at 18:10 - Reply

    Thanks Bill. A comment above mentions ‘day of reflection’. Perhaps that would be a good name change – Reflection Day.

  12. Shubhra Paudyal 25 January 2023 at 20:06 - Reply

    Well said and thank you so much for sharing your reflection, ‘love is the answer, love is the way ‘ May we all genuinely love one another and make the way….

  13. Toni 26 January 2023 at 08:22 - Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and stories.

  14. Louise Malone 26 January 2023 at 14:10 - Reply

    Beautiful and thoughtful. Thank you Rev Bill.

  15. Rebecca 30 January 2023 at 17:56 - Reply

    Politely put Bill considering what we did historically to such a beautiful people.
    I do agree that ultimately white or other invasion would have happened with the Portuguese sighting the land early 1500’s later to be replaced by the Dutch (the Japanese decided they’d had enough of the Christian Portuguese and instead traded with the Dutch) sailing by the Top End, calling the land New Holland, and Tasmania naming it Van Dieman’s land in 1642. Indonesians were fishing off the coast of Arnhem Land from roughly the 1700’s exchanging ideas with the aboriginals there, and the Japanese later were attempting trade.
    By the time the Brits dumped white convicts on the shores of New South Wales aboriginals had a word for white man..

  16. Sun Yeo 22 April 2023 at 19:02 - Reply

    Thanks for your sharing about your beautiful, personal story Bill.
    First Nation should recognised by the all people who are living in Australia.

  17. Megan Cotton 31 January 2024 at 11:29 - Reply

    Too beautiful to comment on-interestingly though that the aborigines were considered a ‘curiosity’ to white men and vice versa they had never seen white men before- they called their ships ‘boats with wings’- and thought they were their ancestors.

  18. Megan 3 February 2024 at 09:56 - Reply

    Aborigines had spears and boomerangs to fight wild animals which they ate. There is no evidence of tribal warfare between them. It has been estimated that there were 300,000 of them so they probably didn’t need to fight between themselves for land. I think the whites and blacks just didn’t know what to do with each other.
    To this day I think that they have just never been properly understood.
    Cathy Freeman said she didn’t just want to make ‘her people’ proud of her- she wanted to make them proud of themselves.

  19. Megan 24 February 2024 at 11:55 - Reply

    Cook wrote in his journal that the natives were ‘shy, but friendly enough’, Joesph Banks also got on with them telling him the that the animal he had drawn was a ‘Kangooroo’.

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