First Nations Australians protest on 26 January 2018. Photo by Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The story of Australia is a story of lies and violence

Slowly Australians are coming to realise that truth and non-violence are virtues that have eluded them for over two centuries, writes the Archdeacon of Australia’s Central Coast ahead of a New Zealand visit.

As I prepare to travel to Aotearoa to speak at various events I am deeply aware that this preparation takes place in the shadow of the 70th anniversary of the assassination of Mohandas K Gandhi.

Anyone with any interest in human rights cannot but be a student of the Mahatma and I am no exception. As is the way of the modern world the media are keen to point out his many faults but I am encouraged by those failings perhaps even more than his sanctity. I guess that’s because I can relate more to his brokenness than his perceived greatness although closer examination will reveal that they are interdependent.

Gandhi’s unwavering commitment to the concepts contained in the Sanskrit words Satyagraha and Ahimsa, roughly translated into English as truth and non-violence, even 70 years after his death, continue to be an inspiration to those who seek to build a society that values human rights.  These principles have always been important but never more so than now.

As an Australian I come to Aotearoa as much to listen and learn as to speak but what little I have to share concerns a story of Australia that typifies the antithesis of Gandhi’s two pillars, it is a story of lies and violence.

As a person of Anglo-Celtic descent I have always envied your term “Pākehā” which recognises people for who they are rather than for who they are not. In Australia today, we have fallen into the practice of seeing people as non-Aboriginal, non-Christian, non-Muslim and worst of all un-Australian. This is not the language of unity but of division.

As you celebrate Waitangi Day, in the recognition that we do not live in a perfect world and no treaty or legislation can ever make it perfect, at least the treaty was an attempt to acknowledge a truth; that there were people in the land before Europeans arrived. Australians have just stumbled through “Australia Day”, or “Invasion Day” as First Nations people call it, with over one hundred thousand people protesting the inappropriateness of the 26th of January as a national day because it marks the English occupation of the land that was based on a lie, the lie of terra nullius, the empty land. A lie that soon led to appalling acts of violence against a noble people who had lived in harmony with the land for 65000 years.

Ironically the British came by boat and entered Australia without permission over 200 years ago, and their descendants are now not only denying the same privilege to some of the world’s most vulnerable people but treating them in the most devastatingly violent ways.

Our politicians, ably assisted by the tabloid media, dehumanise asylum seekers by telling lies about them, we commit violent acts against them by suspending the rule of law so they can be indefinitely detained, the women are exposed to rape, the children to abuse and the men to murder.

Many Australians are now realising that truth and non-violence are virtues that have eluded us for over two centuries, perhaps because they were not laid in the foundations of our nation. Sadly, there is just not enough of us yet to make a difference.

In recent time I have been thrown out of Parliament House and arrested while chained to the gates of the prime minister’s official residence all in expressions of non-violent direct action and an attempt to proclaim the truth that every human is of infinite value and that no person should be degraded, least of all for political purposes.

Truth and non-violence are not only the surest foundation for nation building but also for human rights. We thank the Mahatma for this bedrock on which humanity can stand and that his voice still echoes even after 70 years. If only we had ears to hear.

Father Rod Bower is a keynote speaker at the “Pathways, Circuits, and Crossroads Conference: Ka Awatea: Diversity and Inclusion”  8-9 February 2018  hosted by CADDANZ and sponsored by the Human Rights Commission


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