I have read some of the recent debates about why some people were going to or were not going to celebrate Australia Day this year or any year – about why they feel it is important, and why they feel it is not. I have read the arguments about whether or not they like or love the country. I have seen the words nationalism and patriotism dissected and hurled across cyber space like spears. I have seen violence in words and thought, even as such words describe the horror of violence perpetrated outwardly against other Australians – against other human beings.
My friends – my fellow Australians and fellow human beings – we are above and beyond this. The pain that can come from reading such words is not so much to be found in the opinion of one side or another attacking someone or something else, but in the fact that we lose ourselves in such a process. For what we truly are hovers always above such violence and argument. The highest we can truly aspire to in our relationship with Australia is to stand together as individuals who have become Human as Australians. This is what must be celebrated every moment we consider Australia or seek to work with anything connected to her vast and uncontained widths.
We can experience this also in the celebration of our heroes. Our heroes have always been, first and foremost, human beings who have stood as such – and in so doing, have stood as truly Australian. We must all grow into the heroes that each of us are. Then we will have also an outwardly manifest country that is worthy of our highest celebrations. Those heroes we already hold up are none other than those who speak to us of ourselves. We see in them that part of us which is of our highest order. Our heroes are different than those of other countries – this too bears the stamp of a uniquely Australian expression of our own humanity. We have no Homers, no Shakespeares, no Goethes, Schillers, Novalises, Coleridges, Wordsworths, Thoreaus, Emersons, and so on. These too may be our heroes, but they bear something of an already European and American flavour. We search for similars in Australia and find as yet none – we do not have, as yet, those who have pushed through a kind of intellectualism to arrive at a full articulation of the heart of the world.
Yet we do have those who are, in a way, a direct expression of this heart itself. Australia will not suffer an intellectualism as dry as the land itself. We do not make heroes of our intellectuals and academics. For what we see in them has not yet worked itself through – has not yet come to a conscious speaking of the heart of the human being. And yet the seeds are there too in our scholars and academics, if only they can find the path through the intellect to the world once more. The true scholarship of today is a becoming more fully human. The true Australian Scholar of today is the one who has become Human as Australian. Our heroes are not yet ones who have pushed through this intellectual desert. They are ones who still speak the oasis of the far side.
Our heroic halls are filled with sportsmen and women – with those who have excelled on the international and sometimes national arenas. Cricketers, tennis players, swimmers, footballers, rugby players. Bradman, Lillee, Goolagong Cawley, Laver, Court, Whitten, Cazaly and so on. We celebrate artists – musicians, sometimes actors – those who have gone onto global spaces. ACDC, INXS, Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger. We criticise too such individuals, only to lift them up again should they finally, tragically, fall. We celebrate events that have thrust Australians and Australia into the world with equally tragic results. Gallipoli, the Battle of the Somme. Such events take on a mythological quality. We celebrate outwardly successful events too – events that say to the world more than merely ‘We are here,’ but ‘this is who we are’ – the America’s Cup victory, the Melbourne and Sydney Olympic Games. We celebrate even animals if they are capable of speaking something of what we feel of our own selves. Phar Lap is perhaps one of Australia’s greatest heroes – a horse. He too has taken on a mythological status. The abnormally huge size of his heart stands as a symbol for all Australians because it speaks of that which lives in each of us.
Even foodstuffs can achieve the same level of esteem – Vegemite, lamingtons, meat pies, Pavlova. ‘This is us,’ these things say, without apology or explanation, and the world responds. Our writers – the most celebrated by the Australian people (and not merely academics) thus far – speak a language of that which lived in Phar Lap also. The bush poets, and perhaps the modern bush-city poets. Lawson, Banjo Patterson, Tim Winton. They speak also of a wandering heart – the wandering swagman. The one who can carry one’s whole life with him wherever he will. The human being as Australian wanderer, as traveller. This of course extends all the way overseas – the great Australian pilgrimage back to London has now expanded to include almost every place on Earth. One is hard pressed to travel somewhere and not run into an Australian.
Much of these heroics have an earlier expression of course in the heroism of the Australian Aborigines. The songlines and dreaming of the Australian Aborigines has not disappeared. The stories and songs are the country – are the land itself. The Australian wanderer, the Australian swagman, are nothing other than those who walk out the land in the way the Australian Aborigine has already done for centuries as those who sing up the country, as those who sing up the land, as those who walkabout. The celebrated heroics of the big-hearted Australian is nothing other than another beating of the same heart that pulses through the whole dreamtime of the Aboriginal culture. The culture, the land and the stories are the same. All as one celebrate the heart of the people and the place. The heroes we raise up today are those who speak the same ‘language’ as that articulated already by the great creation songlines and dreamtime stories of this land. Such a speaking lives in each of us. But in order to utter it and to understand it, we must be able to push through to a new Australian-ness. Our becoming necessitates that we start from where we are – that we take the intellect that lives now in this country and push through it to a new heart-speaking. Only then will we as Australians truly be able to converse with the language of this land, this country, the Aboriginal Culture, one another and with ourselves in a truly living way. There are abysses everywhere. This new speaking can be the heart-language bridge we need in order to cross them. In such a way will we grow into the heroes we already are and celebrate Australia truly as Human Beings.
Australia Day, January 26, 2011. Basel, Switzerland.