Australia Day celebrates not just the arrival of the first fleet in Sydney Cove on 26 January, 1788, but recognises the contribution of all Australians, including the indigenous Australians that predated that landing and all the subsequent immigrants who came from everywhere else and now call Australia “home”.
But what makes us different or unique? That is not easy to define, but in my reading I came across a speech delivered by Sir Henry Parkes (1815-1896) to a small crowd (about 80 people) in the small country town of Tenterfield on 24 October, 1889. He was a politician (5 times Premier of NSW) but he had a much bigger dream – to unite the six independent colonies into one strong nation. This speech is often regarded as the turning point in that debate, and although he did not live to see it, he knew it had to happen!
He was a master statesman who brought out many good reasons why we needed to have “one central executive authority” and “bring all the force of the different colonies into one national army”. Yet it was the next bit that caught my attention:
“Australia now has a population of three and one half million and the American people numbered only numbered between three and four million when they formed the great commonwealth of the United States. The numbers were about the same, and surely what the Americans did by war, the Australians can bring about in peace, without breaking ties that hold us to the mother country.” (Great Australian Speeches, p56).
It seems to me that what makes us different is that right from the beginning we have had a desire to live in peace, to give people from all around the world the opportunity for a fresh start and a fair go, recognising that if we are going to survive we need to work together. This is a land of contrasts, a harsh environment of droughts, floods and fires, as we have been reminded of in recent weeks. Yet the Australian Spirit is not crushed by this, and as the Australia Day awards have shown, these events and tragedies have again brought out the best in ordinary Australians.
May God bless you this Australia Day
Chaplain Ian S Whitley