Submitted by Sydney Berkey on the 2020 winter session study abroad program in Australia sponsored by the Department of English…
“Like you, I have watched in anguish and horror as fires lay waste to precious Ewen land, taking everything with it. Lives. Homes. Animals. Trees. But to the first nation’s peoples, it is also burning up our memories, sacred places, all the things that make us which is ours. It is a particular grief to lose forever what connects you to a place in the landscape,” recounted Margaret Beazley, governor of New South Wales during the Morning Smoke Ceremony.
The WugulOra Morning Smoke Ceremony is an Aboriginal custom in which native plants are burned with the intent of healing, cleansing, and warding off bad spirits. The embers produced from this particular ceremony then traveled to the Yabun Festival, Tallawoldah, and Circular Qauy throughout the day to continue to smoke and cleanse the crowds throughout Sydney.
“The devastating bushfires has drastically changed the ceremony,” voiced Harry Tumero, a WugulOra Ceremony onlooker. “Normally, government officials come and apologize to our past, present, and emerging communities. But this year, the catastrophic impact of the fires was a main point. The governor said it herself, the fires are sadly overshadowing everything at the moment.”
During the Australia Day ceremony, there was reflection of Aboriginal practices that sustained the land and how their knowledge is currently being used to better protect the environment and communities. The bravery of the first, all Aboriginal fire squadron was also mentioned due to their excellence in protecting their sacred sites, caring for their country, and fighting fires.
“There has been less focus on whether it’s Australia Day or Invasion Day,” proclaimed Marissa Wilkson, a descendant of the Gadi community. She mentioned that grief normally overwhelms her throughout the day because of her outlook on the true meaning behind Australia Day; however, Marissa explained this year’s grief was completely different. “I was overwhelmed, some but not mainly because of the horrors that occurred after this day many years ago to my ancestors, but because our country is becoming a wasteland. Since, our fires have been so bad, we’ve had no choice but to push our differences under the rug and deal with our huge environmental problem.”
Australia Day 2020 was drastically different; even Australia Day events focusing on the celebration, not the healing process, commented on coming to terms with the impact of the fires. The bushfires forced all Australians, Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal, to come together and to push away some of the political meaning of this controversial day to fight a common enemy for their land, lives, and homes.