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nation to be proud of, gift to our children’s children.

Voice: Part 3

In October I will be voting ‘Yes!’

I have had the most privileged of lives. I am so lucky. I am loved and I have come to know that I am lovable. My journey, like all human journeys has had its ups and downs, its good times and its difficult times.

My journey has, like all human journeys, had some unique features. There are not that many of us who have lived a celibate life as a Religious Brother within the Church. There are not that many of us who had a childhood significantly affected by the mental illness of a father. These two unique elements in my story have both gifted me and burdened me. But I am not unique. We all have our form of this – our burden and our gift, our light, and our shadow.

My journey has brought me, on several occasions, to periods of anxiety and at times depression. These are not fun times. Anyone who has dealt with anxiety and depression knows what a difficult space it is. I can clearly remember towards the end of 2019 waking up each day in a cloud of anxiety, constantly close to tears, stomach in a knot and desperately wanting to get ‘well again’. My desperation to get well was, in hindsight, one reason why the anxiety had become cyclical – the more I wanted to get well the more I was anxious that I was not getting well and the more the anxiety increased. It was hard, very hard, to trust, to trust myself and those (and there were many of them) who cared for me.

Slowly I did get well. Thank God I had some people who beautifully and professionally cared for me. I can still remember walking close to where I live and in tears phoning a dear psychologist friend of mine, “Dan I’m not well!” Danielle immediately gave me time and care. A doctor friend of mine Caroline dropped everything and came and sat with me. My friends Marty and Joe came and their presence reassured me, my friend Conor walked with me and a medical friend of mine and his beautiful wife who live south of the border constantly but gently checked in with me, challenged me and held me.

As I came out of the pain, the confusion, and the cloud, I was determined that I would learn from it – for it was a place and a space I did not want to return to. One of my learnings was an increased ability to read the signs that the conditions for anxiety were increasing within me and to make simple empowering actions / decisions to choose life.

As part of all of this I made the courageous choice to say, “No!” Noone’s fault but professionally I had become part of some dysfunctional systems. I was doing all the things that I have written about in blogs that we should not do. I was marching to someone else’s drum. I was giving over my power. I was passive aggressive not claiming my own needs, wisdom, and voice. I was saying “yes” when my body and spirit needed me to say “no”!

It was not easy to say, “No!” It was not easy to say ‘no’ and mean it and stay with it, honouring my ‘no’ – so that I could truly celebrate my own ‘yes!’

But I did and the years since December 2019 have been some of the best of my life. I have a long way to go – but I am more free, more whole and more me. My tendency towards anxiety is still there and like the chameleon, sneaks away and then returns in a different guise – but I am becoming better at seeing it, naming it and calling its bluff. A beautiful part of that journey has been the courage to claim my own voice. To honour my wisdom and experience. To claim my own needs and to not feel guilty about it. I have claimed a seat at the table which is my own life.

The reason I share all of this with you is simply that I can see so many parallels between my own journey and that of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the journey to ‘The Voice’ to parliament. Just as I have had some childhood based trauma our First Nations people have layers and layers of intergenerational trauma and pain. Again, no one’s fault. It is not about blame. Dispossessed of land, robbed of language and lore, rounded up, incarcerated, culture and gift misunderstood and not valued, assimilated, and judged and robbed of meaning and purpose, these the first peoples of this beautiful land have experienced generations of pain and confusion. These same people have, generation after generation, struggled to find voice, purpose and place in the very place, voice and purpose filled land that had been home and belonging and story for eons.

The journey of right relationship between Australians and the First Australians is complex and the pain and confusion layered. It is not about throwing money at: that has never worked. It is not about assimilation: that is like mixing oil and water. It is not about Commissions and Reports: only the lawyers and bureaucrats truly win in that space. It is about respect, reciprocal and mutual respect. It is about story, honouring and sharing story – all story. It is about finding a shared, celebrated, dignity and respect beyond differences – where the difference is gift and unifying – leading to a more complete, truth filled whole.

This is not too hard. We, as a society, have done it beautifully and effectively with the hundreds of thousands of migrants who came to these shores after countless wars. Our beautiful, strong, gifted multi-cultural society with its myriad of foods and festivals, music, dance, and language bear testimony to the power of difference shared and celebrated. We can and have done it!

There is no simple path forward. But if there is one thing I do know having lived with fellow Christian Brothers who have had the honour of living with and working with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for many years is that it is about voice. It is about having a respected and honoured seat at the table for issues that directly affect them. It is THEIR story with our story. It is THEIR wisdom gifting our wisdom. It is THEIR insights dancing with our insights.

I can remember chatting to one Brother who had lived close to an Aboriginal Community for many years. Just when the people were claiming their voice, just when they were having success in education or job seeking / job creating and just when they were finding ways to meaningfully break the poverty and incarceration cycles – there would be a change in government and the funding for Indigenous led programs would go – and all would be back to square one. They had no say! They had no voice! They had no say and no voice in the very issues and questions that directly affected them.

We are better than this. We are bigger than this. This referendum gives us the privileged opportunity to make a real difference. This referendum gives us the sacred chance to enlarge the table so that all can sit at it and be respected and heard. This referendum gives us the opportunity to honour the beauty and strength of all Australians that together weave a coat of many beautiful colours.

Sadly too many will seek the lowest common denominator: “If you don’t know, vote no!” Sadly too many will use fear: “We will lose our land and sovereignty over it!” Sadly too many will use untruths: “It will create a privileged class within Australian society!”

In these blogs I have often written about the politics of fear. Mug slinging is easy politics and degrades. Fear mongering is easy politics and avoids truth. Again, as I have often said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” and “the truth will set you free!” This referendum will ennoble us or shame us, gift us or imprison us, unite us or divide us. Voting ‘yes’ to give our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a voice at the table in matters that directly and specifically effect them will ennoble, gift and unite!

But let us vote ‘yes’ not out of guilt but from a space of listening to the truth growing within us. Let us vote ‘yes’ and grow together. Let us vote ‘yes’ and take small baby steps towards healing and true unity. Let us vote ‘yes’ and experience what we have experienced so often in the past – that difference embraced and celebrated only ennobles, frees and unites.

It won’t be easy. The day after the referendum the hard work will begin. But the referendum will be the most beautiful and powerful symbol of oneness and empowerment and voice. It will be a moment we and our children after us and our children after them will look back upon and be proud of.

As a Christian Brother I am so proud of the work of the Edmund Rice Centre in Sydney. The Edmund Rice Centre has for many years researched key Social Justice Issues facing Australians. I cannot recommend too highly the material on ‘the Voice’ contained on the ERC website. https://www.erc.org.au

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