Dear Inner Circle,

For the first time in years, I will not be an ambassador on Australia Day. I’ve loved the opportunity to meet folk from the far corners of this state and be trusted to give some words that connect, unite and inspire. I dipped out of the programme this year because my health is still not great. I’ll spend this Australia Day at Spencer, known by the locals as the “Hub of the Universe”. At the hub, there is a tree outside the general store under which Australian culture happens. The tree is known as, “the tree of knowledge” because the small group that gathers, find answers for most of life’s big questions and this remarkable feat is aided by liberal applications of beer. These people speak to each other with extraordinarily crude expressions of affection. My first impression was that they each detested the other but over time, I’ve learned that when any one of them is trouble, most set aside their own needs to lend a hand. Houses get renovated, cars get repaired, sick people get visited, lawns get mowed and ultimately, everyone gathers under the tree of knowledge where various questions without notice are considered and much beer is consumed. On the 27th, the Hub of the Universe stops for the event of the year, the Spencer Cup. I think this entails anything that can float and move by paddle power, entering a race on the Hawkesbury River. The town has its own blues band, the unique, “Inder-Spencer-Bulls” featuring the amazing talent of Andrew Long on keys and vocals. The band will set up and play on someone’s front veranda near the general store. Friday and Saturday will be a great celebration of Australia and cause me much thankfulness to be alive and to be in this country and to celebrate with others in the Hub of the Universe.

It does us good to take one day a year to make room and time to be thankful. We spend much of our year cleverly detecting the various shortcomings in our country and then moaning about the absences. It’s easy to forget the gifts of a health system that works pretty well; for a legal system that though not perfect, still causes us to believe in justice; to expect it and fight for it when lacking; for the ability to walk into a supermarket in any suburb and find a plentiful, overwhelming choice of food at relatively affordable prices; most everyone, even homeless people, have a mobile phone in their pocket; all of our cities have beautifully maintained parks where citizens can gather, exercise and picnic for free. Most of the incredible gifts we have are…gifts. They have come to us because of the work of trade unions, politicians of all kinds, engineers, doctors, social reformers and especially, plumbers! It would do us all good to gather in groups large and small and rejoice, just for one day a year and then safely return to the comfort of our sense of deprivation the following day.
Waves lap up onto the shore in Australia
Our national anthem needs a lot of work. My suggestion is that we sing the one phrase, over and over. “Australians all let us rejoice”. It fits the whole tune. I cannot bear and I cannot bring myself to sing, “for we are young and free”. Surely our greatest treasure is that we are not young. The most ancient cultures in the world still exist in this ancient land. Who can sing without choking on, “for those who come across the sea, we’ve boundless plains to share”? Every time I hear my grandkids sing this at their school, I think the teachers are forming little subversives. I guess we all live with double standards in some way but to sing this line is hypocrisy, unbearable, odious and impossible while ever there are overseas detention centres. Let’s stick with the one phrase and sing it over and over to the same tune. “Australians all let us rejoice”.

When we sing our National Anthem with just one phrase and mean it, I’m pretty sure we’ll move the date of the celebration. There is no need for our day of rejoicing to be marked on the day of invasion for our first peoples. There is no need for this day to be linked with any historical event whatsoever. It should be like Mother’s Day which doesn’t have any historical basis except millions of us were all born through the efforts of some woman. Let’s just have a date set aside to be thankful that we live here.

So, James Long fathered James who fathered Albert, who fathered Harold who fathered Harold who fathered me. We’re latecomers to this country. James was a starving penniless Irishman who lived in the same district as Ned Kelly. When they hung Ned, James was Mayor of Ballarat. What a lucky, hard-working, tough little sausage you were James. My deepest thanks for working like a machine to make this your home. All of us came from somewhere. None of us alive today invented ourselves. Everything has come to us from others. My own dad, Harold, was a kid in the Great Depression who then served in World War II and then began an education, studying in a home without electricity. Thanks Dad for showing me the joy and honour of learning. Thanks for showing me that your word was as solid as Uluru. Thanks for showing me that life and love are a participation sport and that in the end, the highest love trumps all, being worth any price. Thanks for showing me that life comes through movement of the feet and not the exercise of the head. So many reasons for me to celebrate this Australia Day.

Especially, I’m thankful that you are part of our inner circle,

Graham

Rev Graham Long
Pastor & CEO
Wayside Chapel

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