Today I am at work rather than kicking up my heels at an Australia Day barbie out of respect for our First Nations people. I just don’t understand why we continue to disrespect our Indigenous Australians by continuing to choose this day to celebrate all that it is to be Australian, on the day they lost their lands to white invaders.**
Don’t forget it was only in 1994 (24 years ago) that the date of 26 January started to be celebrated by all the Australian States and Territories as Australia Day and officially became a public holiday. Only 24 years ago.
We could celebrate Australia Day on the 1st January, Federation Day, the day Australia became a nation when the British Parliament passed legislation enabling the six Australian colonies to collectively govern in their own right as the Commonwealth of Australia. It was a remarkable political accomplishment that had taken many years and several referenda to achieve.
Or really, we could celebrate it on any other day.
This year in 2021, we celebrate the Queen’s Birthday in Queensland on 4th October; in Western Australia it is 27th September; in Victoria, NSW, Tasmania, South Australia, Northern Territory and ACT it is 14th June. BUT her actual birthday is 21st April?? If the Queen can cope with that, I am sure she would be relieved to know we have looked at our history and decided it is wildly inappropriate and stupidly defiant to choose to celebrate all the good things about our nation, on 26th January every year – such a demonstrably unsuitable day for us to choose. Probably the ONLY day we shouldn’t have Australia Day………if we are a thinking, caring, in-touch nation.
Big changes can come in many ways.
Every year I see more conversations about this. Mostly from young people who seem to get it.
But from our Prime Minister a few days ago, we hear that apparently ‘it wouldn’t have been too flash either on the boats that arrived in Sydney‘ 233 years ago. I agree with Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe who said it was disrespectful and offensive to compare the experience of First Nations people with those aboard the First Fleet ships.
“The prime minister has an opportunity to unite this country, not to divide it. And that starts with telling the truth about this country’s history,” she said.
Truth telling and self-education is vital and unlearning may be necessary. History books are laced with the false pretence of a peaceful discovery of Australia to legitimise invasion. In 1938 as part of one of the first civil rights movements in the world, First Nations people had already declared 26 January a Day of Mourning – well before 26 January became a national public holiday. (Taken directly from a guide for respectfully and mindfully navigating the day with some tips to invoke change in Peppermint Magazine prepared by Yorta Yorta woman Taneshia Atkinson. Read more of this excellent blog here. )
I know this Prime Minister cannot possibly lead by making this big change. He cannot make changes on climate change for the same reason. He is constantly looking over his shoulder (backwards and sideways) instead of looking forwards to the future. Last night I watched many impressive people doing many impressive things at the Australia Day awards. I heard some remarkable, inspiring speeches from people who were unafraid to speak their mind, to discuss difficult topics on a national forum – periods, menstruation, rape, inequality for indigenous Australians. I recommend you take the time to watch the whole show.
For all of the day on 26th January (so it may have clicked over to the 27th in some countries), $5 from any book purchase will be donated to the Dhadjowa Foundation. Donate to help establish an organisation that supports and amplifies the voices of families whose loved ones have died in custody.
Come on Australia – I would like to think that we can generate a mood for real and immediate change in 365 days. Do we keep having to waiting to do this in a ‘timely fashion’….seriously?
Map of Indigenous Australia – so you know what the Indigenous name of your suburb/region is. (Purchase from this website)
**The First Fleet, the group of ships which left England to create a penal colony abroad, actually arrived in Botany Bay on 20th January, 1788. On 22 January, 1788, due to the unsavoury nature of the water and land at Botany Bay, Governor Phillip sailed north to Port Jackson with a small expedition party. There he selected a sheltered site for anchorage which he named Sydney Cove. Returning with the remainder of the Fleet on 26 January 1788 – now celebrated as Australia Day – the first permanent European colony on the Australian continent was established. (Taken directly from the NSW State Library display on the arrival of the First Fleet)