There is nothing wrong with being a patriotic Australian. When watching the Australian cricket team, especially in the Ashes, I feel patriotically Australian. When asked to give the historical presentation at Beersheba on 31 October 2017, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the charge of the Light Horse, I felt patriotically Australian.
But what does it really mean to be a patriotic Australian, particularly an Australian Christian, in view of the differing views relating to Australia Day on the 26th of January? My perspective on the matter is conditioned by my upbringing and by my life journey, and I certainly do not presume to be an expert on the subject.
Growing up on a Western Australian wheat, sheep and pig farm, I was quite a typical ‘bush boy’ and we were quite typical of people in that rural setting — part English free-settler and part Scottish free-settler. My skin colour, and that of my siblings, though, was darker than all the other kids. This was, we were told, because Mum’s grandfather was in the British Army in India and had married an Indian nurse. Now that was a great story — and we basically believed it.
I had little Christian input. The blue-eyed, blonde-haired Jesus from Scripture lessons did little for me. Sport and hedonism was my god. Yet deep down something was missing — something to do with knowing my true identity and destiny. Attempts were made to fill this void by being successful at sport, or other activities, in order to gain acceptance and recognition.
Despite limited Bible input, I developed an interest in Israel and the Jewish people, a process which began as a boy of about five due to an interest in Australian, Anzac and family military involvement in the Middle East. When an Israeli family came to live on a nearby farm for two years, the modern nation of Israel was added to my interests in the region, as too was an awareness of the Holocaust.
Then while studying history at University, my sense of a void within strongly manifested itself. Whether I was in the bush, or in the city, I felt a misfit. At the age of twenty, I realised there had to be an answer to life, and that this answer was waiting for me in Israel.
Seeking answers in Israel
After travelling through Europe for a year, I arrived in Israel in early 1979 and felt at home and fully accepted, especially while working on a farm (kibbutz). My identity and destiny I sensed was to be found here, and serious consideration was given to convert to Judaism. This, however, was not to be, especially when realising that conversion was synonymous to religion, and religion I certainly was not seeking. With this option now discarded, that inner void just grew larger.
It was at that point, at my lowest, that an American Christian on the kibbutz told me about Jesus. The Jesus she told me about, though, didn’t interest me — what did a blue-eyed, blonde-haired Jesus have to do with Israel and the Jewish people?
Identity and destiny found in the New Covenant
But then at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday morning in 1981 (which was also Passover) I heard about ‘another’ Jesus — the Jewish Jesus. This epiphany led me several months later while in London to accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. My true identity was not about becoming Jewish and Israeli, it was by entering into a personal blood covenant relationship with Almighty God through His Son Jesus, a relationship then sealed by the in-filling of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 26: 28, Ephesians 1: 13.)
The key for me was hearing about Jesus according to the flesh — the dark-haired, dark-complexioned Jewish Jesus, not the blue-eyed, blonde-haired ‘Caucasian’ Jesus. Small wonder then, that the first Scripture to really catch my attention was the prophecy in Jeremiah 31:31-34 — the promise of a new covenant with Israel.
My destiny was now to honour, serve and worship Almighty God, not self. During the years from 1981 onwards, I lived in Jerusalem, volunteering in different hospitals (including working with Holocaust survivors) and then several Christian institutions, and marrying a Dutch nurse, Lexie, in 1984. My older brother Grant, a farmer and sheep-shearer, came over for the wedding, and also came to know (enter into a personal relationship with) Jesus.
Reconnecting to my Anzac and Australian roots
Throughout those years, there was no desire to return to Australia. Then from 1986, I began working as a guide and local historian at Christ Church, the evangelical Anglican church in the Old City. This required research into British and Protestant involvement in the region. As the period being researched included the two World Wars, I stumbled upon my Australian and Anzac roots again.
From 1988, this included taking tours from Jerusalem down to Beersheba and the Negev region and up to Semach in the Galilee, entitled In Step with Allenby and the Anzacs and Light Horse. Central in this renewed interest was the realisation that the Anzac soldiers had played a key role in aiding with Israel’s physical restoration. There were times, admittedly, when national pride came to the fore. Thankfully, my wife constantly reminded me to keep this attitude in check.
Then in 1996, a British film-maker asked me to work on a documentary with him about three generations of Anzacs in the Middle East — myself being the third generation. I knew I had uncles in the region during the Second World War, but didn’t know about family involvement there in the First World War.
This search began while on furlough in Australia in 1997. The search unearthed that one great-uncle had died serving as a Gallipoli reinforcement, and that one great-uncle had served on the Western Front — as an Aboriginal soldier! This meant that my grandfather was also part-Aboriginal, not part-Indian. This discovery led in turn to finding the marriage certificate of my great-grandparents. They were not married in India, but at Pingelly, and my great-grandmother’s name was just ‘Julip.’ She was an Aboriginal woman from the Noongar people.
The research also uncovered that another direct ancestor was a fifteen-year-old ‘convict’, one of a group of juvenile ‘convicts’ known as the Parkhurst Boys. So my Australian heritage now also had both ‘convict’ and Aboriginal connections.
What did all this mean? Did it now mean that I had to change or adapt my behaviour and thought patterns, my worldview? Not really, as I basically remained just as I had always been, which was mostly Anglo and part-Aboriginal. Interestingly, I was told (as too was my brother Grant) that there is no such thing as part-Aboriginal, that you are either White-Anglo or Aboriginal. Hard to fathom that attitude though, especially as a large proportion of Australia’s population is part this and part that and one’s physical identity, even worldview, is influenced by all of these inherited parts.
However, knowing that I was part-Aboriginal might explain why it was that hearing about the Jewish, ‘Eastern’ Jesus resonated with me, as too did the concept of covenant and the blood-covenant relationship. (Several books are written on this subject matter, including Israel, Jesus and Covenant.)
Return to Israel
Shortly after these discoveries, we as a family returned to Israel for another ten years. During that time I led dozens of In Step with the Light Horse tours, and teamed up with Barry Rodgers of the Australian Light Horse Association (ALHA). Together we were involved in organising the re-enactment at Beersheba in 2007 (as well as 2012 and 2017) and proposing that a Light Horse memorial be placed at Semach on the Sea of Galilee. Some years later we proposed that a statue of an Aboriginal Light Horseman also be placed at Semach — which has since occurred.
During those years, I noticed a certain attitude with some of the Australian tour participants, with such sentiments as ‘we had captured Beersheba because the British couldn’t’ and that ‘without us Australians the land of Israel would have remained under Turkish control.’ (In fact, Beersheba and the land of Israel were captured by the Light Horse together with the British and the New Zealanders.) Was this attitude mere enthusiastic patriotism, or was it closer to overt national pride?
Lessons from the history of Israel
Abigail, Talia and me, Beersheba 31 October 2007
The history of Israel reveals the dangers associated with overt patriotic nationalism, especially when it relates to over attachment to land. To my understanding there is only one group of people to whom Almighty God entered into covenant and gave a specific piece of land. This is the nation of Israel and the land of Israel. Such promises were sealed with a covenant oath. (See Genesis 12, 15.)
But despite this covenant oath, residency and shalom in the land depended upon obedience to God’s Kingdom Constitution — His Torah. What God detested in Israel was any form of pride, and what He sought for and desired was constant repentance and humility (2 Chronicles 7:14). When the pride of the nation accumulated, the people suffered the ‘curses’ of disobedience, and ultimately were exiled from the land — not once but twice. Some rabbis saw exile as being the result of over reliance upon the peripherals such as the land (of Israel), the capital city (Jerusalem), the Temple, the Davidic monarchy — and not enough of worshipping Almighty God.
Indeed although God had promised the land to Israel by covenant oath, they still nevertheless needed to abide by His laws. The destiny of Israel was that they would worship their creator God, and not peripherals such as the land (as important as the land was), and they were supposed to be a light to the nations. Is there a lesson there also for Australia — not to over-emphasise the peripherals — whatever they might be in our particular situation?
Almighty God is Sovereign over ALL nations
We returned to Australia permanently in late 2009, and several months later I spoke at a Conference in the Parliament House Theatre in Canberra hosted by Norman and Barbara Miller. My given topic related to the role played by the Anzacs in assisting with Israel’s modern restoration. It was based upon Acts 17: 24 — that God is indeed sovereign over nations, and that the historical record testifies that the nations of Australia and New Zealand did play an important role in aiding Israel’s physical restoration during both World Wars.
Paul’s sermon recorded in Acts 17 though, is much more than just the roles played by nations in world history. It primarily relates to God’s ultimate destiny for ALL nations or ethnic peoples on earth. That destiny, Paul informs us in verse 27, is ‘that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.’ And again in verses 30-31:
‘Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.’
It would seem to me that Almighty God in His sovereignty ordained for Aboriginal peoples to migrate to Australia (exactly when and how is a matter for others far better equipped that myself to discuss and determine, including in ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’, 29 January 2013; and The Australian Geographic). This migration could have been in several different waves. They were followed by the British and Europeans, and then in time by other groups of people.
Whatever the case, what some British settlers did when they came here, especially their treatment of the Aboriginal peoples, must have greatly displeased God. Yet conversely, it was also British and European Christians who first introduced Jesus the Messiah to the Aboriginal peoples of this land.
If Jesus indeed came to pay the death penalty due to all of Adam’s descendants, European and Aboriginal, by dying on the Cross and then rising from the dead, and if through His death and resurrection Almighty God has provided the opportunity for individuals to enter into a personal covenant relationship with Him and thereupon receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal shalom — then indeed the coming of the British to Australia was a great blessing which far outweighed the negatives. In this light, I cannot see how the British and European wave of migration can be viewed as an ‘invasion.’
What then is an Australian Christian’s true identity and destiny?
In conclusion, as a follower of Jesus, one’s identity is not to be found in worshipping one’s nation, one’s land, one’s history, one’s heritage, but is found in a covenant union with Almighty God through Jesus. On this point it is important to recognise that the culture of Jesus (Yeshua) was an Eastern culture. Followers of Jesus today from an Aboriginal or part-Aboriginal heritage need to be allowed to understand and nurture their identity ‘in-Jesus’ in a way which is appropriate and suitable for them.
Our destiny is to honour, serve and worship Almighty God and to seek the extension of His Kingdom on earth — in our immediate context, Australia — and to encourage all people, from whichever wave of migration they are from, and of whatever skin colour they have, to repent and come to know the One whom He has sent!
A Christian proclamation for our nation Australia
We want to acknowledge that according to the Bible (the Holy Scriptures), Almighty God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Father of Jesus the Messiah, has created the heavens and the earth and all within. (Genesis 1)
We acknowledge that from the first human couple, Adam and Eve, Almighty God formed all the nations and peoples, determining that they should inhabit the whole earth; determining their appointed times in history; and determining the boundaries of their habitations. (Deuteronomy 32: 8-9: Acts 17: 24-26) We acknowledge that Almighty God’s purpose for mankind is that all would repent and confess faith in Jesus the Messiah. (Acts 17: 27, 30-31)
We acknowledge that Almighty God has ordained that Aboriginal peoples would first inhabit Australia, later joined by British and other European peoples, as well as peoples from other cultures and ethnic groups.
We acknowledge that within these waves of migration to this, God’s land, practices have occurred which failed to reflect the dignity and respect due to all image-bearers of God. We regret all these wrong practices and are truly sorry that such events occurred.
But it is our desire today, and henceforth, to worthily represent Almighty God and to see His Kingdom purposes established for this land, including that all who live here be treated as equal citizens.
This article was originally appeared with the title “Australia Day & Our Identity & Destiny as Australian Christians from a Anglo-Indigenous Perspective” on The Daily Declaration, January 22, 2021, and reposted with permission.