Clockwise from back left: Richard Eccleston (of the Institute for the Study of Social Change), Ant Edler, Margaret Steadman, Rosalie Martin, Mitch McPherson. Photo by Matt Farrell.

Tasmania’s Australians of the year for 2017, Rosalie Martin, Mitch McPherson, Margaret Steadman and Anthony Edler, explored the meaning of Australian identity at a public forum at the University of Tasmania on Thursday August 3, 2017. The event was sponsored by Australia Post and the National Australia Day Council, hosted by the University of Tasmania’s Institute for the Study of Social Change and MCed by ABC’s masterly-indeed Angela Ross. It can be livestreamed here.

We were first welcomed to country by Tasmania’s beautiful, warm, and quietly passionate Aunty Brenda. We cannot be reminded too often of our history and of those whose lands we walk upon; those upon whom our own lives are built, and to whom our lives are connected.

Angela Ross also reminded us of this importance. She shared that “Jamaican and American political rights activist Marcus Garvey once said… ‘a people without the knowledge of their history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots’.”

Lauren Jauncey of Australia Post told about ‘the Post’s’ committment to diversity and to the intentional steps it is taking to ensure that the diverse human face of our country is indeed represented in its workforce. And fairly.

Chris Kirby of the National Australia Day Council told of recent research by his organisation which revealed five key values which Australians identify with: egalitarianism – the fair go; optimism – she’ll be right; independence – have a go; tenacity – hard work; infomality – laid back.

Then, it was back-&-forth with the four panel members; discussing that values are positive human characteristics and can be found everywhere in the world; that tenacity can actually be harmful – especially to those with mental illness and to men who might feel that they need to ‘tough it out’ when they actually need non-judgmental help… or as Mitch says ‘It’s OK not to be OK – have a chat about it’.

There was willingness to change the date of Australia Day. The 26th of January is a hurtful date: better that we celebrate being Australians together on a date that does not injure our first people. Marg Steadman suggested a date in January prior to the 26th – before the first fleet arrived; a date in liminal time in which all things are in potential. Representing the potential for a differing outcome. An outcome free of injury.

Ruth Langford, passionate voice for Aboriginal people, her people, spoke of the importance of understanding the trauma of Australian history; and of acknowledging this trauma. She asked about forgiveness.

It is enormous grace that Aboriginal people use the word ‘forgiveness’. Those of us with white privilege should recognise this grace and meet it.