Today across many cities in Australia both indigenous and non-indigenous people came together to both reflect on the past and cleanse the way for new beginnings, by taking part in a smoking ceremony.
Australia Day brings up different emotions for the citizens of our nation. Today is the anniversary of when the British flag was hoisted at Sydney Cove. But it is also referred to as ‘Invasion Day’ and ‘Survival Day’ by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Australians and if you watched the ABC Documentary ‘Australian Wars’, you will understand why it is such a painful part of our history.
So on this day of mixed emotions, it felt good to catch an early morning train into the city with a few of my photography friends and be included by the Gadigal people of the Eora nation in the WugulOra (One Mob) Morning ceremony at Barangaroo—a tradition that is now in its 20th year.
At the heart of this ceremony is the celebration of the oldest living continuous culture on Earth through dance, music, song and language. The smoke is created by smouldering native plants like emu bush and is believed to have spiritual significance, provide medicinal benefits and cleansing while warding off evil spirits. It is not unlike other more recent cultural practices where incense might be used in Church and lamps lit in a Buddhist Temple.
In the past, smoking ceremonies were conducted at key milestones like childbirth, initiation rites and funerals. In modern day Australia, smoking ceremonies are used quite frequently in Welcome to Country ceremonies so most of us have had the privilege of being immersed and cleansed by fragrant smoke.
Despite the early morning hour, the lawn at Barangaroo is packed. I do believe our nation is prepared to work together to heal the hurt of the past and walk together toward a future that works for all of us.
Whether that might involve changing the date on which we celebrate what it means to be Australian, so we can truly ALL rejoice, remains to be seen.