Why I no longer celebrate it.
I was going to write a different post this week, but I watched a documentary that made me change my mind.
This is something I’ve done for the last few years (or not done, really), without making a big deal of it, but I feel like now is the time to explain why.
I don’t celebrate Australia Day. I used to, but haven’t for the last 5 or 6 years.
I also don’t sing the national anthem and haven’t for nearly 20 years, as I don’t feel like it’s inclusive (but that’s another story).
The 26th of January marks the date that the First Fleet arrived at Port Jackson in NSW.
It marks a ‘discovery’ day that doesn’t really exist because Australia wasn’t uninhabited, so couldn’t be discovered.
Like all Aussie kids, I learned our history throughout my school years, but it’s only been as an adult that I’ve realised how heavily it was weighted towards our white colonial history.
I distinctly remember one lesson we did in primary school where Aboriginal elders came to our class and told us about their history, and they showed us bowls and other artifacts, as well as showed us how to build a humpy (shelter).
Apart from one other lesson on the Kanaka history of my hometown (because my hometown’s agriculture was literally built on the backs of Pacific Islander indentured labour), most of the history I learned was based around the First Fleet, explorers like Burke and Wills, and the plight of convicts who were sent to Australia against their wills.
Of course I knew about First Nations people back then, but I assumed we were all happy families now.
I didn’t understand the deep trauma that exists in the original inhabitants of the land on which I was born.
This idea of commemorating the 26th of January as a day of mourning isn’t a new concept. In fact, it was declared as the Annual Day of Mourning in 1938.
It wasn’t even a consistent date for Australia Day until 1994 (although all states and territories were calling the occasion Australia Day by 1935, but marking it on different days).
Australia Day, for white Australians, (and for me, for such a long time) was a celebration of all we are. The mateship, the larrikism, the ‘she’ll be right mate’ perpetual casual attitude we seem to embody more than anyone else in the world.
But that’s not how everyone sees it.
The Mirriam-Webster dictionary describes mateship as “an Australian code of conduct that emphasises egalitarianism and fellowship”.
We can’t talk of mateship, something we’re inherently proud of, without considering that we’re leaving an important group of people out of our circle of mates.
That’s why I know in my heart that commemorating the 26th of January as anything other than a day of mourning is a bad thing.
So what can we do instead?
Firstly, we need to listen.
Pay attention to what First Nations people are telling us and asking of us.
But don’t ask them to do all the hard work for you. Do your own research (I’ve listed some resources to start you off at the end of this post).
Secondly, reflect on your own feelings about Australia Day and the 26th of January, and indigenous history and whether you actually, truly know enough about it.
Change is hard, especially when we have to let go of long-held myths we’ve been told about our history.
There’s difficulty in self-reflection, but coming to terms with our history and how that’s traumatised the longest living culture in the world is an important step forward in reckoning with it and doing better now and in the future.
We, white Australians, look at 200 years of history and see it as a long time, but First Nations peoples look at it, and it’s but a blip in their 60,000+ year story.
In that context, it’s really not hard to understand why we can’t all ‘just move on’ without acknowledging the wrongs of the past, and taking actions to right those wrongs and give First Nations peoples self-determination and sovereignty.
So what will I be doing on this January 26th instead?
I’m reading a book I’ve had on my TBR pile for a while now – Stan Grant’s ‘Australia Day’, and reflect on how I can learn more about our true history, and how at times like these especially, I can lift up the voices of Indigenous Australians so they may be heard.
Here’s how you can get started:
- Another Country – documentary on SBS On Demand
- First Contact – documentary series on SBS On Demand
- A Real History of Aboriginal Australians, the first agriculturalists – Bruce Pascoe TEDxSydney
- “All Australians, but especially Scott Morrison, must tell the truth about our violent history” – Lidia Thorpe, Greens Senator, on The Guardian
- Finding Our Heart – picture book, by Thomas Mayor and Blak Douglas
- Australia Day – Stan Grant
- Welcome to Country – a travelogue of indigenous Australia by Marcia Langton
- Dark Emu – Bruce Pascoe
- Also check out Magabala Books, an Aboriginal owned and led publisher.
These are only a few resources available, so continue to research and read and listen.
Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.