Story telling from Australia
“…all we have is the present moment to endure or enjoy.” PD James.
No amount of glittering gold can compete with the treasure of being in the moment, especially when it’s a moment that matters. I had two such moments this week.
I’m not a great fan of crowds and noise and I tend to shy away from any suggestion of jingoism or overt national pride, so the whole concept of Australia Day, celebrating the arrival of the First Fleet a mere 200+ years ago when people have lived on this land for 53,000+ years, makes me more than a tad uncomfortable.
But with two young visitors from England I decided I would have to endure a day on the harbour surrounded by excitable crowds for their sake. Endure or enjoy: two words so similar that if you say them quickly enough they’re hard to distinguish.
And to my great surprise I didn’t endure the experience. I enjoyed it. It turned out to be one of those moments I will treasure for as long as my memory lasts.
We took a ferry to Circular Quay, walked around the harbour and found a spot on the railings almost right under the Harbour Bridge. The crowds weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be. The girls pushed their legs under the railings and sat comfortably on the stone capping, arms resting on the rails, cameras at the ready. I took a chance on ageing hips and knees and sat next to them, the three of us lined up in sunny comfort, happy to sit and watch, going nowhere, drinking in the view.
As chance would have it we were in the perfect spot. To our right we saw the Governor of NSW piped aboard HMAS Adelaide, to our left was the finish line for the ferry race. In front of us we had dancing tugboats and on the opposite shore a 21-gun salute thundered out. Directly above us RAAF jets performed a fly past.
In all that hullabaloo and excitement surrounded by noise and music and laughter I looked across at my niece, now grown into a beautiful young woman, and I felt blessed. It was a moment to treasure; a single beat in perfect stillness, captured in the here and now.
The ferry race finished and we clambered out from our vantage point to discover a choir of children had assembled behind us. Preparations were underway for an Aboriginal smoking ceremony, which gave us all an opportunity to witness something that honours Australia’s past.
There was another moment yesterday, when renowned social activist Noel Pearson was on the radio speaking about social justice and the radical centre of politics. I switched on by accident and sat in the car on the driveway to listen to the end. It was stirring stuff and you can listen to it here
Noel Pearson said many things that stuck in my mind, but one of the most memorable was when he talked about defining moments in Australian history.
Most white Australians, including ex-PM Tony Abbott, cite the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 as the single most defining moment in Australian history. Pearson refuted that. Why only one defining moment?
He suggested three: the arrival of the first people to walk on Australian soil more than 53,000 years ago; the landing of the First Fleet in 1788 and the abolition of the white Australia policy between 1973 and 1975.
Life is made up of moments, past and present.