Australia: Macrobius used the term Australis (South Land) on his maps in the 5th Century. Captain Quiros, the Portugese navigator of the 16th Century called it La Austrialia del Espíritu Santo - South Land of the Holy Spirit. He did not find the great south land, but rather, the largest island of Vanuatu which bears the name Espiritu Santo to this day. Matthew Flinders was the one who coined the name Australia, as it was more agreeable to the ear than Terra Australis, and the new name stuck. But the continent had not yet been discovered. Captain Cook discovered the south-eastern coast of Australia on 19 April 1770. But was Spirit already here - for there had been spiritual stewardship of this land for 40,000+ years. It was the land of the Dreamtime.
It is still the land of Dreamtime. For all land is holy land, sacred unto all who reverence where they live and eke out their daily bread with grateful thanks to the giver of all, whatever name they are accustomed to use. To the indigenous Australians, that name was Biame, Darumalun, Tjchuringa, T'kmali (Rainbow Serpent) and Alcheringa. The Divine reveals itself to all peoples - in all lands - with names and forms that suit that time, that culture, that place. We do not know if there was a universal name for the Divine among the 700 odd language groups of ancient Australia. It may have been "Dreamtime", it might have been "Alcheringa" with one or another form of spelling. Nonetheless, it was a land brought to life by Spirit.
That stewardship in the name of Spirit still has an effect on many who live in Australia today. Urban dwellers "get away from it all", "go bush", "go camping" and often to the same place, year after year. The highways and byways they tow their campervans along are their songlines and they chant their way, "We're going to (Bonnie Doon) or wherever ... Their favoured holiday place becomes a sacred space for them, lodged in their memories as their own Dreamtime filled with days of rest, relaxation and recreation (which is re-creation). We re-create ourselves at our holiday places. After all, holiday is a derivation form of holy-day, a day whereupon we recollect all that is valuable and life-giving to us.
Imagination is the nation of images. And we create this modern nation through the images we hold about it. Several spiritual disciplines teach that the seen reflects the seer, and that we create our experiences through our thoughts, our feelings, our actions. However, we first create an image of what it is we wish to feel or experience: and our motherland, Australia, in this day and age, is fruit of many imaginations.
The Australian poet James McAuley captured this in the opening lines of his poem, Terra Australis:
Voyage within you, on the fabled ocean,
And you will find that Southern Continent,
Quiros' vision—his hidalgo heart
And mythical Australia, where reside
All things in their imagined counterpart.
Australia is a nation of images: what we image, we create, we live and we love. Some image the raw beauty of the outback, some image the love of family, some image industry and prosperity and yet others image an environment of personal fulfilment. We hold within ourselves images of personal satisfaction and enjoyment.
We had said that imagination is the nation of images. And when it comes to creating a future for Australia, for Victoria and the Goulburn Valley, that nation of images reaches out to image rain and plentiful waters in our irrigation canals; others image participation in the workforce and an end to years of unemployment. Our leaders and representatives in local, state and national spheres are also part of the nation of images; they are the ones who image the practical steps that transform imagination into everyday practical reality - the images of productivity, prosperity and progress for all.
The poet James McAuley went on to image in his poem, Terra Australis:
It is your land of similes: the wattle
Scatters its pollen on the doubting heart;
The flowers are wide-awake; the air gives ease.
There you come home; the magpies call you Jack
And whistle like larrikins at you from the trees.
In the Goulburn Valley - and Shepparton in particular - we pride ourselves with the fruits of our work in multiculturalism, building social cohesion and inclusion for all who live here. Those who work for social inclusion do scatter the pollen of home, participation, belonging in community on the doubting hearts of our new arrivals. Cultural groups are formed, associations of people network and reach out and ensure that all are informed, all are included. And , when it comes to that time of year, the magpies make no distinction about race, colour, country of origin: everybody gets dive-bombed and swooped if they seem to come too close to the nest.
McGuires Punt provided river crossings on Kaiela, the Goulburn River. The Siege of Tallygaroopna took place on Yorta Yorta country. The Mooroopna Hospital was built on flood-plain, nearby land that one day (after the Cummeragunga walkoff) would become Daish's Paddock, where Yorta Yorta took refuge when the river flooded. Rumbalara was to follow, and then the torturous path to permanence of the Rumbalara Football-Netball Club. Today, Rumbalara is the sign of welcome, the sign of healing and the sign of Belonging in our community. Sorry Day is celebrated in Shepparton under the auspices of the Shepparton Regional Reconciliation Group: the crowds grow larger and larger each year. People line up to sign the sorry book. We image a nation of reconciliation.
In another poem sequence about Terra Australis. James McAuley captured the essence of the nation of images that both remembers our past, and captures the values of the future we might imagine for ourselves:
Which from all beings pours forth to the Spirit.
And from our broken toil may you inherit
A vision to transform your latter days.
Australia - the nation of images becomes stronger every year as our imaging of the Anzac sacrifice takes central place in our national identity in the cold and dark of the Anzac Dawn commemoration. More and more attend the Dawn service, the silent crowds spilling over onto the roadways, stand and remember, recall and break the purposeful silence with a thundering "Lest We Forget"! The vision of freedom defended valiantly by our forebears, our grandparents, our neighbours, our families, births new images of our future as Australians, forever young and free.
The Shepparton Interfaith Network invites you to continue to make Australia the nation of images, imaging a future filled with harmony, cooperation and understanding between different cultural and religious groups who make their home in the Goulburn Valley and in Shepparton. Above all, we invite you to be a nation of images that embodies the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do to your own self.
We return to our poet and his stanza about the nation of images:
There too the angophora preaches on the hillsides
With the gestures of Moses; and the white cockatoo,
Perched on his limbs, screams with demoniac pain;
And who shall say on what errand the insolent emu
Walks between morning and night on the edge of the plain?
The angophora, the white cockatoo, the emu: all totemic ancestors of one or another of our indigenous uncles and aunties, brothers and sisters who call Yorta Yorta country home. As local Yorta Yorta man Niall Brown often tells, we are Yorta Yorta going forward: we go forward together - and image our future as the Goulburn Valley living together in harmony, in prosperity, in peace, with respect for our land, with respect for all who live and make their home here.
Australia - the nation of images - images the numbered Dreamtime. If we take the numbers away from the years, the months, the days, then we are left with a numberless eternity of NOW time, Dreamtime. The place of Spirit.