A plea for compassion and open-mindedness on Australia Day

Each year as Australia Day approaches — more jingoistic and commercialised every year, it seems — I become unsettled, troubled. Grappling internally to find a compassionate view of what is happening in and to the country of my birth.

My deep sense of connection to this ancient, precious land, to its vast skies and wild oceans, its life-giving rivers, sandstone escarpments and eucalypt forests remains undiminished. I am grateful every day for the accident of birth that means I am Australian.

But there is abundant evidence that we are at a critical time in human and national evolution. A time when we, as a nation, and a species, can choose exploitative materialism and divisiveness and hard-heartedness; or choose compassion, and sustainability on all levels. It seems to me and to many other Australians that the only viable way forward, if future generations are to enjoy what we have been privileged to enjoy, is the latter.

Brad Chilcott, National Director of Welcome to Australia, was given a Citizen of the Year award this year, for his work in welcoming asylum seekers to Australia. In his acceptance speech, while noting the deep irony implicit in the award, he said:

‘First and foremost I’d like to recognise that we meet on the land of the Kaurna people and pay my respects to their Elders past and present. It is essential that we remember that the privileges we enjoy on this land have come at a great cost to other people and their culture …

‘This award suggests that deep down we all know what makes a good Australian, a good citizen. It’s values like kindness and compassion. It’s the ability to see the common humanity of all people and to work towards healthy communities where everyone can belong. This Citizen of the Year Award is a clear recognition that we know a good citizen doesn’t intentionally teach a nation to fear, doesn’t intentionally dehumanise people for their own political gain, and doesn’t think cruelty is ever a viable solution to anything.

‘We know that true Australians are all about adding dignity to people, not taking it away. Including people not rejecting them. Calling out the best in other people and not denigrating them. True Australians — good citizens — see all people as equal and live in a way that builds harmony and compassion instead of eroding them.’

Dear reader, may this day be one of mindfulness, open-heartedness, peace and harmony for you and for all Australians.


Letter to Governor Arthur Phillip

all blood is red, all flesh
and muscle tissue
and plasma
the same
no matter the pigmentation
of our thin, thin coverings

how does pale skin
ordain you, sir, to stride
unmindful into an
ancient, complex world
so far from
your place
of birth?

to plant, along with that offensive
imperialist flag, disease
mediocrity greed a
superficial artificial world

so arrogant
so ignorant
such a flawed phase
in the long history of
a clever self-blighted species

consider, sir, your primitive culture’s
assumption that it can
tame nature
outdo the perfection wrought
by the Great Mystery you call

centuries later
your legacy, sir, continues
to play out, perpetuating
conflict disharmony

requiring us all, now,
if we are to survive
and thrive
to breathe deeply expand our
hearts open our minds
reach out
for reconciliation
for peace
for harmonious pathways
to compassionate embrace


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3 Responses to A plea for compassion and open-mindedness on Australia Day

  1. Angie Moore says:

    Wonderful, Desney! Profound, thoughtful and eloquent.

  2. Wonderful! Thank you … x

  3. Laura Mooney says:

    I share your ambivalence about Australia Day – and also agree it’s getting harder every year to feel positive about it – so it was really great to hear of the recognition of Brad Chilcott for his work welcoming asylum seekers. Hooray!!! That has really made my (Australia) day.

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