There is a plaque outside the front door of the Province Office in Hawthorn, Vic., with the following words:
‘The Australian Province of the Society of Jesus acknowledges that we walk upon the traditional lands of First Nations peoples. We pay our respects to them and recognise the continuing gift of their cultures to the life and spirit of Australia.’
It is not the first such plaque at the Province Office. The last one was stolen in 2017. Whether it was the value of the metal or the words that encouraged someone to remove it we will never know.
The plaque has been replaced, with some changes to the wording. Both plaques are important reminders of our need to keep remembering.
It is easy to place something on a wall or set up a memorial, such as those to the Ngadjuri people now standing at Sevenhill in South Australia. But why do it? Who takes to heart the words they speak and the values they represent?
Like statues, sculptures and memorials, plaques can provide eloquent reminders of our past. As we pass them, they call us to notice and remember our history. In a busy world of activity, movement and change, they can catch us with an image, touching our minds and hearts, sometimes in an uncomfortable way.
As for the words on a plaque, there are no perfect ones. It is poetry of a sort: finding an economy of words along with a depth of meaning.
Hence, I am not concerned the second plaque’s words are different from those on the original one. We will keep trying to find the right words to accompany our hearts, to express an ongoing and deepening recognition of what we want to say.
This is especially true in acknowledging and recognising the First Nations peoples of this land and our relationship with them.
8–15 July is NAIDOC week; a time to stop, remember and celebrate the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of this land. Its theme this year: ‘Because of her, we can!’
It will aim to celebrate the invaluable contributions that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have made — and continue to make — to our communities, families, rich history and nation.
Let us take time to recognise those women who have stood proud and strong in this land and who can nurture, lead and encourage, not just the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but us as well. They are mothers and grandmothers, carers and teachers, holders of culture and relationships.
Plaques, words and celebrations are about remembering, but they can also provide an opportunity to express gratitude for belonging to this ancient land and for those whose lives and culture enrich us all.
Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial
Banner image: Detail from the winning entry to the National NAIDOC Poster Competition. The artist is Cheryl Moggs, a proud descendant of the Bigambul people of Goondiwindi, Bungunya and Toobeah regions in South West Queensland. Read more about Cheryl and her painting on the NAIDOC website.