NAIDOC Week Reflection • 12 July

Wiradjuri man, artist and Anglican Priest Glenn Loughrey offers this week’s reflection on the NAIDOC Week theme ‘Healing Country’ and our call as Christians to love our neighbours as ourselves.

NAIDOC Week Reflection

The NAIDOC 2021 theme is Healing Country. Country is the family name of Aboriginal people. While we have individual identifiers, our family name is the country where we were born out of the ground under a tree and where we will die and be buried under another tree.

We are born out of the ground and bring with us the traditions, language, culture and trauma buried there through the lives of those who went before us – our ancestors. Our vocation as people of country is to live our life between our two trees in such a way that we honour our ancestors’ traditions, reconcile some of the trauma there in and not to add to what is there by carrying trauma with us when we die. Sorry business at the death of someone is process of reconcile and resolving issues left undone so that it is not carried on into the future.

Country is not just about dirt. It includes all we share our space with – all our kin or cousins – trees, flora, fauna, waterways, landscape and more. We are to live out the custodial ethic of responsibility and reciprocity with all – we are responsible for their well-being, and they are responsible for ours. We do not take more than we need. We do not destroy or dig up what is unnecessary to ensure the wellbeing of all.

By being born out of the ground under a tree we carry country in our body. Our body is country, and we can never be “off country”. Wherever we are we have a custodial responsibility for the country we carry with us and the one we now walk on.

This short description of country, outlined more fully in my book “On Being Blackfella’s Youngfella – Is Being Aboriginal Enough?” sets up the theme and our response to it. It is our custodial responsibility to heal country, both internally and externally, both latecomers and first peoples. It is not just our responsibility as First Nations People because we live out of the Dreaming that comes with our birth on our country.

Those who comes from other places, first generation or 6th generation hold in their bodies the Dreaming of their ancestors. It comes with them, but they are also of this place either by birth or by living on country. We are all of this place. Australia Post has just redesigned their packaging for parcels and now leave a space for people to write the name of the Aboriginal country on the address label. Noticed channel 10 weather this week has used the Aboriginal names for the major cities on the weather map.

When children visit the Wominjeka Garden at St Oswald’s I give them a small vial of dirt from the local area and tell them that it holds all they need to know to live custodially on this space. I sprinkle some gentle into each child’s hand. One 9-year-old, on receiving the dirt, said: “You know what I am going to do with this dirt?” “What are you going to do with it?”, I asked. “I am going to take it home to my grandparents and I am going get them to hold out their hands and I am going to put it in them. They are from Italy. I am going to tell them this is now their country.”

Taking the idea of carrying country in our body reminds us that we also have a responsibility of living out of our own inner truth and working to resolve that trauma that lives in us, whatever its source maybe. A healthy self plays a role in ensuring a healthy country. Again, this is a closed circle of custodial responsibility.

For Aboriginal people, and for the descendants of those who came here as a result of the invasion and were complicit in the genocide that followed, suffer cross-generational trauma. I hear from non-Aboriginal people horror stories of the past which remain embedded in them and need to be reconciled for theirs and their family’s well-being, some of which can be done by simply being able to acknowledge what occurred. For Aboriginal people it is far more complex because it involves loss of home, language, tradition and life, and there is no way back to what is integral to their way of being or seeing.

Post generational trauma is a shared experience.

As Christians, a quiet reflection on what I have spoken about may well return us to such as the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer and Jesus’ own interpretation of the custodial ethic – love your neighbour as yourself.

Cover Image: Naarm – Always Was Always Will Be Kulin by Glenn Loughrey