Welcome to this week’s editorial, January 26th is traditionally the day when excited New Australians take the oath of citizenship and are welcomed as one of us to this great vast land. They make a pledge and state: From this time forward, I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey. Though not mandatory they are also encouraged to read the Life in Australia booklet. In that book they will find the line “One of the defining features of Australian society today is the cultural diversity of its people and the extent to which they are united by an overriding and unifying commitment to Australia”. In 1974 I arrived by boat from the Territory of Papua New Guinea with a suitcase and a dream of making Australia my home. Having lived in TPNG I knew and respected what that country was. I had seen so much of its stunning coastline, its islands, mountains, rivers and reefs and in doing so had met many of its inhabitants, mostly villagers, living simple lives at one with their environment. When you arrived in a new region you were introduced to the environment first. Advised of water, food, wildlife and then advised of boundaries, of territory, of the human layer. I arrived in Australia wanting to learn of its country. School projects had me wanting to see the Great Barrier Reef, so incredible that it had the name Great and therefore its reefs must have been so much more than those in TPNG. I wanted to see the Blue Mountains and smell the eucalypt oil on a hot summer day knowing that it saturated the air in order to start a fire as part of its natural cycle. Most of all I wanted to meet Australians who knew the bush, who knew the names of the plants, the birds, the animals. Australians who knew the spirit of place where they lived and had what the people of TPNG and the Australian aboriginals called “a love of country”. I remember being sorely disappointed on my very first “Australia Day” in January 1975 when I discovered that the day was a celebration of the humans rather than of the country. I learnt all too quickly that “Australians” were jingoistic and racist and the day was little more than a day off work to don patriotic colours and declare the rest of the planet as lesser beings. Over the many years I have lived in Australia (I was born here BTW and left at a very early age) I have seen it as two separate entities desperately trying to live side by side. On one side is the human factor. The other side is the bush. And both are in continual conflict with the other. Having spent a few decades surveying I have seen firsthand pristine forest “civilised” into human habitat. And with every new subdivision a cost has been borne by the country, the vegetation, the animals, the water tables, and the streams. The land called Australia, to most, appears to be ours to plunder and we plunder it so willingly that we have needed to create laws to stem the tide of “development” as our human numbers swell while the ever increasing demands on the land diminishes the natural environment that it once was. And there I was on the first “Australia Day” in 1975 having hopes that things might be OK when I learnt that new citizens were presented with a seedling to plant, playing recognition to the fact that they were now accepted as a custodian of the land that wanted to now call home. The arguments continue between the humans as to who was here first, as if that really matters. Irrespective as to whether you were first or have just arrived it goes without saying that you need to respect where you live and recognise the fact that you are just one of many lifeforms who call Australia home. Nowhere in the Citizens Pledge is there any mention of how you should interact with your New Land. No where in the Australian Values Statement is there any mention of the land that is Australia and no where in the Life in Australia booklet any mention of this Home Girt by Sea. Our National anthem tells us that our land abounds in nature's gifts of beauty, rich and rare. Apparently we have also have golden soil and wealth for toil and boundless plains to share but that only comes after we have cleared everything first. Nowhere in all of our jingoistic patriotism is there any mention of making a commitment to look after it. The closest we come is Clean Up Australia Day picking up all the crap that has been dumped by Australians over the previous year. January 26th for me represents the last day of the summer holidays when everyone goes home. It is, as it has been for the past 45 years, a day where I recognise the incredible diversity of life that calls this vast island their home and rejoice in the fact that we are incredibly fortunate to be alive on an incredible Big Blue planet hurtling through space and that petty arguments about who was here first or which tribe is best are so infantile as to not warrant further thought. This January 26th I shall once again walk the shoreline near where I live collecting the empty bottles, the cans, the used nappies, the fast food containers, bait bags, cigarette packets and even used condoms left behind by those many Australians, from all walks, who call Australia home. As for a day every year to celebrate the country that is Australia and not just celebrate Australians? Maybe we could call it .... Australia Day. Now wouldn’t that be nice? Until next—lei
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