January 26– 3 Bla(c)k Opinions
On January 26, 1938, a large group of Aboriginal people donned in black clothing to represent mourning–gathered, marched and made protest against the mistreatment of Aboriginal people and communities, and the 150th celebration of the anniversary of British settlement. The Day of Mourning was one of the first major civil rights gatherings in the world:
‘WE, representing THE ABORIGINES OF AUSTRALIA, assembled in conference at the Australian Hall, Sydney, on the 26th day of January, 1938, this being the 150th Anniversary of the Whiteman's seizure of our country, HEREBY MAKE PROTEST against the callous treatment of our people by the whitemen during the past 150 years, AND WE APPEAL to the Australian nation of today to make new laws for the education and care of Aborigines, we ask for a new policy which will raise our people TO FULL CITIZEN STATUS and EQUALITY WITHIN THE COMMUNITY.’
Eighty-three years on, the country has persisted to celebrate such an anniversary. And eighty-three years on, Aboriginal people have continued to fight, to protest and to mourn.
Mob and allies alike have called for a change of date to celebrate ‘Australia Day’ to foster a more inclusive society and to coin a day that all people within this country could unite and celebrate. Contrary to this, there is a growing sentiment to abolish the celebration of ‘Australia Day’ altogether, as regardless of when ‘Australia Day’ is celebrated, the celebration will remain deep rooted in a legacy of invasion and continued colonial violence.
We spoke with mob about their feelings towards ‘Australia Day’ and whether the date should be changed:
Do you celebrate ‘Australia Day’?
Ruby Wharton (RW) (Gamilaraay Kooma), member of the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance and the Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy: I have never celebrated Invasion Day due to the deep seeded roots in white supremacy and colonialism. January 26 is the date in which Australian’s celebrate the invasion of stolen land which was violently claimed. There were many horrific events that happened in the name of British land acquisition; massacring, land dispossession, imprisonment and theft of children were tactics weaponised against First Nations people. Invasion Day is a day First Nations people spend honouring our old people and communities who are still enduring the pain of colonisation and white supremacist systems, it is our Anzac Day. Many First Nations people find it insulting that Australians celebrate a day that glorifies violence against First Nations people.
Cody Walker (CW) (Bundjalung and Yuin), NRL player for the South Sydney Rabbitohs: I don’t celebrate Australia Day. I celebrate the survival of our people and the strength our ancestors had shown when the British tried to wipe out our existence. Despite that, we are still here standing and celebrating our great culture. Belonging to the oldest living culture in the world is something to be very proud of.
Jake Duke (JD) (Kamilaroi), Channel 9 Sports Journalist: When I was younger, I would celebrate Australia Day because I wasn’t educated about the pain, marginalisation and notion of dispossession it evoked in my people. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a history I was accurately informed about at school–an oversight I view as a failure of our education system. As I have grown up, I have had the chance to do research about the topic and as a result, I no longer celebrate the day. I choose to attend the protest in Sydney and hope it will eventually lead to a change of date.
How does 26 January make you feel, and what does it represent for you?
RW: It all depends what day you ask me. I go through a roller coaster of emotions starting with sadness and frustration that we are still fighting the same fight our grandparents and great grandparents did. On the other hand, I feel an overwhelming sense of strength–we are survivors and have been through so much as sovereign people–we have proven that we’re resilient fighters. Personally, Invasion Day represents survival as well as community unity–every year at Invasion Day protests I walk away energised because of mob coming out and standing for the rights of our people. It’s law/lore in action, it’s culture, it’s strength.
CW: I have mixed feelings about January 26. I think it is sad and disheartening that we’re unable to celebrate what a great country we live in and how beautiful this country is. On the other hand, January 26 is another day where I celebrate our survival by attending the Yabun festival, putting on my Aboriginal flag shirt and standing in solidarity with my people. I love hearing the Yidaki and watching the corroboree it’s definitely a highlight of my day. Hearing the Yidaki and singing in language is a feeling you can’t explain.
JD: The overwhelming emotion I feel on January 26 is one of sorrow. First and foremost, I am saddened by the countless atrocities committed against the Aboriginal people of this country. Genocide, rape and the dispossession of children and land has stained the pages of our history books since white settlement. Secondly, I feel a great sense of loss for the [attempted] destruction of our culture–the oldest surviving culture on Earth. More than 60,000 years of stories, language, custom and ceremony have been almost entirely wiped out in a matter of generations. Finally, I am disheartened by the lack of understanding people have about the day. It hurts to know some of your fellow countrymen don’t see the value in changing one date to make the original occupiers of this land feel more accepted in their own home.
Do you believe in changing the date and celebrating ‘Australia Day’ on another day?
RW: I don’t believe that there should be an alternative date. ‘Australia Day’ is rooted in white supremacy and celebrates a country built on First Nation blood and bones–celebrating it means perpetuating the violent and illegal occupation. It’s important to understand that colonialism is still ongoing, having an alternative date will still mean they are celebrating the colonial project here in so called Australia. We need to abolish Australia Day and change the discourse–it shouldn’t be a day of celebration but a day of remembrance.
CW: I would love to be able to celebrate what a great country we live but on any other day but January 26. I believe if the date of ‘Australia Day’ was changed, January 26 will still remain a day of survival for our people.
JD: I believe the date of Australia Day should be changed. There are many other options that would be far more unifying and inclusive. Even if the date is a floating one every year–the same way Easter or the Melbourne Cup is decided. I still think it should remain in January so that people can enjoy a public holiday in summer and celebrate all the things that are great about being Australian. I would also like to see the January 26 marked as a far more sombre occasion. A day to reflect on the dark parts of our history, so they we can move forward together as a nation.