Gratitude is appropriate as we approach Australia’s national day. It’s something that may not appear to mix easily with celebrations usually accompanying the festivities but it’s a quality that’s part of appreciating aspects of our identity and recognising the wisdom of those who’ve often reminded us that we are among the luckiest people on earth.
Sure, we have problems – but they don’t affect everyone and most of us are able to live comfortably enough with reasonable security and can see that younger people who are following us are blessed with opportunities to learn and to succeed in life.
Living in several parishes I’ve enjoyed special touches introduced into Australia Day Masses: the flag prominent on the day itself, and appropriate songs included both then and on weekends nearest to 26 January.
The date has stirred reservations and even outright opposition among some original Australians but it remains the only genuine occasion for national celebration as opposed to the more serious commemoration that marks Anzac Day, which is occasionally touted as an event stirring even greater ownership of our nationality.
Our gratitude should cover more than simply appreciating what’s around us and the way it’s been achieved in a comparatively short period since the coming of European civilisation, which is what the day marks, but those of Catholic faith should review also the outreach of the Church over this period of just over two centuries.
Endeavours by pioneers such as Fr Therry, Archbishop Polding and numerous other figures have seen services develop to meet the demands of those seeking outlets for Masses and prayer, for education, hospital care, welfare services and other forms of important and general social outreach.
“While I live, I grow” was the motto of a business that became a retail giant in Sydney during part of the 20th century – and it’s applicable to thinking about the Church in Australia as we consider its achievements.
Anthony Horderns was the company that featured the motto below an oak tree which existed for a long time perched on a hill above an open paddock on Razorback Mountain, south-west of Sydney.
At its peak, the company owned a huge tract of inner-city land, bounded by George, Goulburn, Liverpool and Pitt Sts, and in 1905 opened an emporium that presented opportunities to buy everything “from a needle to an anchor” at Brickfield Hill.
The site is rarely given that name for its present shopping centre and towering residential developments called World Square, but the label was prominent among early colonial settlers clustered farther north around The Rocks area of Sydney as they referred to southerly winds bringing relief at the end of hot summer days as “Brickfielders”.
All of 52 acres (21 hectares) of retail space was offered there by Horderns at the height of its success which faded as it attempted to expand into suburban locations outside the city during the 1960s.
The loss of retail prowess followed an attack by vandals who poisoned the famous tree which was located not far from the sprawling homestead of the Hordern family, now converted into a hotel and convention centre called Milton Park near Bowral in the Southern Highlands.
During the company’s prime, some of Sydney’s Catholic schools relied on Anthony Horderns as the main outlet for their uniforms – with representatives sometimes visiting classrooms and measuring students to meet their needs.
Again not far from the location of the famous former Hordern tree, a new faith outlet within the diocese of Wollongong began life last year: St Mary MacKillop parish at Oran Park.
Just as the former Anthony Horderns site made way for a different retail and residential development, Oran Park, which was once home to a car racing circuit, is serving the needs of a new suburb in the fastest growing area of NSW.
Church operations are continuing to live and to grow and although being stretched, have been meeting the demands of Catholics ever since those early years of settlement in our first city.
Australia Day reflections on the nation’s growth and the way society has developed should provoke some thanks from the faithful for how the Church has been there, assisting our religious and community needs.