Recently I saw The Secret River. The story is about the early settlers in Australia and their relationships with the native Aborigines. The twist in this story is that the central character, Will Thornhill has been transported to Australia for a trivial crime, which he committed to feed his family. I found it much easier to understand his desire to own a piece of land. There are two other settlers featured in the play, one who has taken an aboriginal woman to be his common-law wife and one who sees the ‘savages’ as subhuman. Will is somewhere between these two responses. After the play, I puzzled over the ‘rights and wrongs’ of the tragic outcome of the play.
The following day, at Theology Group, the talk turned to scarcity and abundance and this made me realise that perhaps the ‘wrongs’ of the play were in each group, seeing the other in terms of scarcity and not having the imagination to recognise the other’s abundance. There were moments in the play when this was possible. Will’s wife, Sal, falls ill and is unable to take nourishment. The family surround her, watching her die, when an Aboriginal woman arrives and sits by her all night feeding her with tiny amounts of some native nourishment. Sal survives and makes a full recovery.
However, scarcity triumphs. The Aborigines are ‘savages’ lacking clothes, civilisation and the ability to share land. The settlers are ‘enemies’ lacking the understanding of the nomadic life, the ability to hunt. Crucially each sees the ‘other’,’ in their interactions. How little changes! It still seems that in our politics we see ‘the other,’ as a source of scarcity. They will take our jobs, deplete our resources without contributing, water down our British culture. By excluding them we lose out on the gifts they have to offer and are the poorer for it.
We held the first meeting of the new Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) group last week. May our prayer be for the imagination to see the abundant gifts of all and the will to create the environment where those gifts can best be shared.