Over the last decade, Ann Van Leerdam has been attending Survival Day marches and festivals that have deeply shaped how she now approaches January 26.
I started going to the Survival Day march and Share the Spirit Festival in Naarm, Melbourne over ten years ago, when friends in my Christian community invited me along.
If you’ve not heard of Share the Spirit Festival before, let me tell you it is an amazing event! Each year we take a picnic rug and some food to share alongside families, friends, food trucks, dancing, grass to lie on, trees to shade us, GREAT music (Hello Dan Sultan and Archie Roach!). Oh, and it’s free! What more could you want?
Over the years the Share the Spirit Festival has shaped me, challenged me, saddened me, and given me hope. This gathering invites me to join with peoples who have lived on this land for over 65,000 years - the world’s oldest living culture. It’s helped me engage with the true history of the country we now call Australia. It’s helped me understand that the well-being of others is tied up with my own well-being. It’s helped me to see that Aboriginal peoples are survivors.
What does it take for a people to survive? Where does that strength come from to live in your land that has been invaded, occupied, and your humanity degraded, in a place you call home?
For me, my thoughts go straight to Jesus.
Jesus grew up in the backwater of Galilee, in a land colonised by the Romans, where he too was seen as a second class citizen. Throughout his ministry he healed people (Jews and Gentiles alike) so that they could participate as equals in their society again. He challenged people, the way the Romans treated others, and his own people with their poor treatment of women, people with disabilities, and the poor.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that if one of us is suffering, we are all suffering (1 Corinthians 12:26). We can’t be separate from the suffering of others - because we are all part of the same body in Christ!
This is a call to action.
Aunty Jean Phillips, one of our nation’s great Aboriginal Christian Leaders, has been asking Christians and churches to join with Aboriginal Christians and take action for justice for decades. Decades. She asks us to “come on the journey” to listen, learn, and take action together. When is Aunty Jean’s call going to be answered by more of us, rather than less? When are we going to remember that our wellbeing is tied up with everyone else’s wellbeing?
We can, as the collective Australian church, work together to bring change and justice in all levels of government and society. We can, we just have to choose to. This will be one of my prayers this January 26, that we as Christians will choose to uphold and advocate for the human rights of all peoples, so that we all can be restored and participate as dignified equals in our society.
So if you’ve never been to a January 26 rally, march, or festival, make this year your first. I can guarantee you’ll learn something new, you’ll be inspired by survival, and you’ll be welcomed into community.
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Attend: Truth, Justice, and Conciliation Commission
On Saturday evening, 26 January, Aunty Jean Phillips invites you to join us for a special event, in partnership with the Anabaptist Association and Common Grace, led by Aunty Jean and Brooke Prentis.
The Truth, Justice and Conciliation Commission will be an opportunity to hear presentations on topics like stolen land, stolen wages, stolen generations, and massacres, as well participate in a process of repentance led by our Aboriginal brothers and sisters.
It will also be a significant moment, as the Anabaptist Association will sign a treaty with Aboriginal Christians. Our hope is this will be the start to a major move of God in the church in its relationship with Indigenous people.
Attend: January 26 Events
Welcome to Country and Amnesty International Australia have published a list of January 26 marches, rallies, festivals and events happening in each state and territory:
- View events on Welcome to Country’s website
- View events on Amnesty International Australia’s website
Go Deeper: Learn more about this issue
For interesting articles about Australia Day and First People’s rights you can go to:
- Welcome to Country
- Articles on Australian Day from The Conversation
- Working Group for Aboriginal Rights (WGAR)
Ann Van Leerdam is a Common Grace supporter and Community Development Worker with 20 years experience working across churches, organisations and communities. She is currently working with Murrumbeena Baptist Church and Brain Injury Matters, and has a passion to see the Church participate with the community in creating physically and emotionally flourishing places to live.