Sunday, January 28, 2007

Australia Day

Australia Day

By + Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop of Sydney
28 January 2007

Many Australians would be surprised to learn that our country is one of the oldest democracies in the world; one of the earliest nations to give all adults a vote, including women.

We know well that the colony of New South Wales was founded as a British prison, partly in response to the fact that the government in London could no longer offload their convicts to Georgia in North America after the American War of Independence. Few of our United States friends are aware of this and fewer speak about it publicly. But wishing cannot change the past.

As a child I was told that most of the convicts had only committed minor crimes and that many of them were Irish political rebels. In fact most of the convicts were wild, very wild, and often made worse by hardships, by the length of the journey to the other side of the world in small boats and the fierce cruelty of the system, which was worse again on Norfolk Island and Sarah Island in Tasmania.

But there was another side to the story as ex-convicts and their families changed for the better when they received their freedom, were given a fair go, encouraged by good governors such as Macquarie and Bourke. The discovery of gold in the 1850¡¯s, changed our society further.

Australians do not attempt to deny our past, the misery and degradation of the gaols, the awful mistakes, sometimes crimes, with the aborigines, because these humble beginnings emphasise the distance we have travelled to build one of the most prosperous and decent societies in the world.

The climate was hard for the first Europeans, the distances were immense, usually preventing any return, and for more than 150 years there were bouts of sectarianism, English versus Irish, Protestant versus Catholic. Catholics then were often seen as Moslems are today. But the old stories of how communities battled successfully to overcome these hurdles generate national loyalty for us now, reinforcing the conviction that we are Australian citizens, bound to one another by mutual obligations and belonging, not hostile neighbours.

Our young people should be told of our ancestors¡¯ achievements, exploring and settling a huge wilderness, planting self-governing communities, building roads and railways, schools, hospitals and churches, defending freedom here and abroad. We shall continue to thrive only if there is a critical mass of givers not takers, prepared to put themselves out for the common good, energetic enough to keep public opinion sound and courageous enough to withstand its mistakes.

No one has to belong to a particular race or religion to become an Australian, because the nationhood we celebrate on Australia Day is a civic, open nationalism, not racial, not hostile to anyone who chooses to belong and contribute.

Whatever our backgrounds and differences, if we are Australians, old or new Aussies, we belong to one another.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Australians should pay a visit to St Mary's crypt.