Growing up in Australia taught me many things; how to deal with a snake in your backyard, what to do if there’s a lizard in your shower, and to always check your boots for spiders before sliding your feet into them.
At school, I learnt about things like the First Fleet, the 11 ships that sailed into Sydney in 1788 carrying the English convicts destined to live in this harsh and barren land. I learnt about Burke and Wills, the first ever explorers to traverse Australia south to north, and about Australia’s part in the two world wars.
It was outside of school that I learnt about the hunting parties that set out to eradicate Aboriginal people when the First Fleet arrived. It was my Grandma who taught me that Burke and Wills only survived as long as they did because they were helped by an Aboriginal tribe they encountered. From reading a book I realised while the white men were at war, the Aboriginal people were struggling to survive the Stolen Generation, a 60 year period where the government stole Aboriginal children away from their families and sent them to a mission, in order for them to learn to live ‘white lives’. None of this was ever taught in the classroom, which is why generations of white Australians are oblivious to the trauma that has been faced by Aborigines for centuries.
Australia Day is celebrated on the 26th of January every year with backyard barbeques, beach cricket and for some, citizenship ceremonies. While it may sound like the perfect midsummer public holiday, the 26th of January marks the date that the First Fleet sailed into Sydney Harbour in 1788. The day all this oppression and racism began is the day we celebrate as “Australia Day”, and we expect the indigenous people of Australia to accept it. Even to celebrate with us.
Every year, the date of Australia Day is a slap in the face to Aboriginal people all over the country. “It’s people celebrating the day that your people got slaughtered and invaded; the day that caused all that destruction and all that suffering to very peaceful people”, said a young Aboriginal boy when being interviewed about Australia Day. Many Australians of English descent are also uncomfortable with the date, as it reminds everyone of how the first settlers believed themselves worthy of stealing the land of people who had lived there for millenia. The 26th of January has been called “Invasion Day” in recognition of the Aborigines being the first Australians, and “Survival Day” acknowledging that since then, Aborigines have had to fight for their survival as they were slowly pushed off the land that their families had lived on for hundreds of generations. This date has such negative connotations for both sides of the situation, the invaded and the invaders, and yet we continue to celebrate on it.
Australia Day has potential to be full of beautiful festivities, celebrating Australia as the wonderful country we have built together, but the date must change. As a nation we cannot continue to celebrate our country on a date that marks the near-extinction of so many of our people.
There are countless other dates that we could celebrate on, days that would preserve the jubilation while eradicating the division surrounding Australia Day. The 1st of January is a popular suggestion, when Australia federated to become a unified nation, as opposed to an assortment of individually-governed states. A celebration on this date would be one of pride. Pride in being Australian, honouring difference, and having hope for the future of our exquisite country.
Another suggested date is the 3rd of June, when in 1992, Aboriginals were recognised as the traditional owners of their land by Paul Keating, the Prime Minister at the time. Indigenous culture has a very strong connection to country, dating all the way back to the Dreamtime. Dreamtime stories talk about the creation of the land, animals, plants and people. Another big part of the culture is respecting the ancestors who lived, walked and died on this land. These connections are what make land rights so important, so the 3rd of June would make a great Australia Day.
While the date that we choose to celebrate our country on may not seem important, Australia Day should be a celebration of diversity, unity, and Australia on the whole. The 26th of January is not inclusive of all Australians, so the date must change, and it needs to happen now.