26 January has arrived. While more Australians are coming closer to acknowledging that there is definitely something askew with celebrating our national holiday on a day of mourning for our First Peoples, there’s a lot of work to be done yet.
Perhaps the alarm bells ring because we are only celebrating the last 230 years of a country that has been inhabited by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for over 60,000 years. Perhaps it is because 26 January was only made the date for our national holiday 24 years ago. Perhaps our collective amnesia regarding our violent history is finally catching up with us.
We interviewed five young Australians on the kinds of conversations they think we should be having today.
Clinton Pryor, 28, Spirit Walker
My original First Nations land is in the south west called Noongar. My father’s people are Wajuk, where there is one river. My mother’s side is Balardung, Kija and Yulparitja.
I walked across the country for one year straight and walked for change. What we have to ask ourselves is: What does Australia Day mean for the First People of this country? We still don’t have a treaty with the government. The lack of support for Indigenous people in this country puts a lot of pressure on our communities. We all know that 26 January commemorates when the First Fleet arrived, but out of all days to celebrate, why then? You know, it was only in 1994 that the day started to be celebrated as a national holiday around the country, and it had nothing to do with Indigenous people.
Most Australians do know the truth of what happened. We need to learn from the past. We need to sit around the fire. We must be respectful to the First People of this country—my people—so we have to change it to another day. The only way this country is ever going to move forward is by bringing up the truth, and being honest with one another.
I’ve got a question to ask people: What does it mean to be a multicultural people? Different cultures of people have different beliefs and we should be celebrating that. I look at the history and on 29 January, 1788, there was a day where, out of nowhere, we had the First People in the Botany Bay area, and British fleets actually getting along with each other. All of a sudden they stopped fighting, and actually communicated with each other; learned each other’s language. There was a connection. Do we want to celebrate respecting each other’s beliefs, learning each other’s culture, or continue to be too busy talking about the greatness of this country? Why can’t Australia Day be changed to 29 January?
I think to myself, why should we even call it Australia Day? We don’t know the meaning behind it. We’re blind by our country.
Tahjee Moar, 25, Independent Curator & Art Educator
I am of Meriam (Erub) and Barkindji descent, and live and work in Sydney on Gadigal country.
I’m still undecided on an appropriate date for Australia Day. However, I do think the conversations around changing the date are important, as they raise an awareness about what Australia Day really represents for Indigenous people; the onset of dispossession, massacres, attempted genocide, forced removal of children and years of policies that denied Indigenous people basic human rights. This continues to impact us today. While changing the date doesn’t deal with the impact of these atrocities and change this country’s history of violence, I think having a conversation about it signals a step towards acknowledging this history. In saying that, I absolutely do believe that the date needs to change.
I definitely think we need to be having more conversations about the true history of this country; colonisation and the frontier wars that followed. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to be the most disadvantaged people in this country as a result of this. Unless Australia comes to terms with its colonial past and the culture of systemic racism and state-sanctioned violence that continues towards Indigenous people today, we will continue to face the same issues.
One way that I’d like to see Australia change for the better is by securing sovereignty and self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through a treaty. I’d like to see us as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being the ones leading decisions concerning our lives and our lands.
Australia has always struggled with its national identity, primarily because of its refusal to acknowledge its history with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and therefore, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. Our national identity has always centred white men which is evident by looking at the people running our country, the statues erected in our public spaces, the people whose opinions we listen to on television and radio, and a majority of sportspeople who have been immortalised as heroes; far from being representational of the culturally diverse society we live in. I don’t think a common national identity is necessary, but I do think that Australia needs to step out of its fantasy of a White nation, and start to look at what really constitutes an “Australian” identity.
Thao Vu, 28, Health data analyst
My parents and eldest brother came to Australia as Vietnamese refugees in the early eighties. Once I asked my parents why they chose Australia, and they replied that they were willing to go to any country that would accept them. Australia happened to be that country.
I'm incredibly grateful that chance brought my family to Australia. I was born here and as a result, have been given many opportunities my parents were denied.
Australia Day should be a day for all Australians. Given that many Australians view Australia Day as a day of invasion and mourning, I believe it should be changed so that all Australians feel included.
We obviously can't change the past, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't work towards a better future. I think there should be more discussion about respect and inclusivity in general. Unfortunately, a lot of groups in Australia feel marginalised, which is sad, because it shouldn't be that way. I would like to see more effort being put into helping people understand, respect and appreciate all the cultures we have in this country.