Erica Hamence opens our series of 16 days of prayer against Domestic & Family Violence - Foundations for Christian Action by reminding us that we pray because our God has promised to transform the world.
The Violence Embedded in the Landscape
Australia, we have a problem with violence. We can’t look at the domestic and family violence crisis in contemporary Australia, without looking at the patterns of violence embedded in Australia’s history.
'“Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion! How long must this go on?’ Will not your creditors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble? Then you will become their prey. Because you have plundered many nations, the peoples who are left will plunder you. For you have shed human blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.
“Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain, setting his nest on high to escape the clutches of ruin! You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.
“Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by injustice! The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, and your destruction of animals will terrify you. For you have shed human blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them."'
- Habakkuk 2:6b-12,17 (NIV)
“Australia” is a land that often focuses on a history that is nearly 250 years old, a history that started when James Cook landed at Kurnell, and even though he pulled out a gun and shot Aboriginal people, apparently no one was here.
“Australia” is a land that celebrates just over 230 years ago, a history that started deforestation in Australia as Arthur Phillip landed just a little further down from Cook and his first act was to chop down trees. This is the beginnings of “Australia” that people want to celebrate each year on a date marked by dispossession and disruption. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott once said,
Whilst the former Prime Minister was attempting to praise the “British foundations” of Australia, in the ears, minds, and hearts of Aboriginal peoples (and our Non-Aboriginal friends) we were reminded of the destruction and death of peoples, trees, lands, waters, animals, birds, and fish. We remembered the violence.
There are countless stories from the colonial invasion and settlement that record Aboriginal people trying to protect Convicts from being beaten, trying to protect trees from being cut down, trying to defend their lands and their lives.
Today we still remember the violence of the past and the present. From massacres to Aboriginal deaths in custody, from the smallpox outbreaks to the 11-17 year gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal peoples. From babies being ripped from mother’s arms with the Stolen Generations, to the trauma of those babies as they grew up in government and church institutions where they were never shown affection. From the 1905 WA Royal Commission on the Condition of the Natives Report where you read about the chaining up of Aboriginal men and Aboriginal women some as young as 14 years old, to 2019 and NSW Police strip searching a 10 year old Aboriginal person.
Australia, we have a problem with violence. If Australia’s foundation begins in 1770, the foundation is built upon violence and injustice. Everyday we walk on land on which massacres of Aboriginal people occurred, that remind us of the blood which has been spilt. Everyday we walk past buildings, including churches, that remind us of stolen land. Everyday we walk past rivers from the Birrarung (Yarra River) to Maiwar (Brisbane River) that are brown, dirty, and polluted, which were once a rich source of life, that remind us of the destruction. Death, stealing, destruction - violent actions. This violence has caused pain, and the continuing injustice causes further pain.
We cannot have healing until we acknowledge the pain, face up to the truth of the past and understand the reality of the present.
Part of the truth of our past is that these lands now called Australia have not always been one nation - for over 65,000 years (or 6,000 years depending on your theology) there were over 300 nations of Aboriginal peoples living sustainably in peace and harmony with all creation - years marked by interconnectedness with all of creation - interconnectedness that was disrupted with violence. May an understanding of our entire past help us to have hope for a different future, a future that brings healing for all our peoples and all of creation - may the truth set us free.
We can’t look at contemporary Australia, without looking at the patterns of violence embedded in Australia’s history. What does this awareness of our past raise for you in reflecting on the current challenge of domestic and family violence today?
Creator Spirit, help us to connect with the pain in the land, the waters, the peoples. Through connecting with the pain may we find truth and through truth may we find justice and through justice may we find hope. Jesus, you are the great comforter and we cling to you in our hurt from the pain, in our discomfort of the truth and the reality, and in our hope for healing. Help us to see, hear, listen, feel, and act as we seek you through the violence embedded in the landscape of these lands now called Australia.
If you are keen to learn more about Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander justice issues and the true history of this land now called Australia, one of the best first steps is to watch the SBS Series First Australians. Another is to read Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu.