To countless Indigenous people, Australia Day represents ‘Survival’, ‘Invasion’ and most regrettably, a ‘Day of Mourning’, yet every year Australia faces the same existential crisis over the hailing of its founding day. With such high levels of controversy; how should Australia salute this contentious day, if at all.
For many of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the annual Australia Day celebration that falls on the 26 January, is a day with little to celebrate. Instead, this day commemorates the loss of their sovereign rights over their land, people and culture. So why do we celebrate such a painful day?
Historically, 26 January is a date of significance to many, as it marks the arrival of the First Fleet landing in 1788 in New South Wales. On this momentous day, Captain Arthur Phillip commander of the eleven convict ships from Great Britain and the first Governor of New South Wales, arrived at Sydney Cove, to raise the Union Jack. This signalled the emancipation of British convicts and the birth of the new colony.
On the other hand, for the native people this spelt doomsday. Aboriginal activist Michael Mansell explains that the day represents how the British annihilated and dispossessed native people from the moment they stepped foot on the country.
“Australia is the only country that relies on the arrival of Europeans on its shores as being so significant (that), it should herald the official national day,” explained Mansell.
Mansell expressed that for him, the date painfully marks the anniversary of European arrival and the violent action that took place thereafter; and is a distressing memory of “the coming of one race at the expense of another”.
Indeed, the general public has become more aware of these sorrowful facts, with attitudes beginning to change. As annually, a growing number of Australians protest over the meaning of Australia Day.
Alternative dates have been proposed for Australia Day over the years. However, without any strong political will, the holiday has remained unchanged.
Some Melbourne councillors have previously voted to drop all references to Australia Day, with politicians such as Councillor for the Socialist Alliance, Sue Bolton comparing the day to “celebrating the Nazi holocaust”.
Sue Bolton went further to explain her comment that hosting ceremonies for Australian citizenship and other festive events on this day as “grossly insensitive” to the Australian Indigenous people.
Several Australia Day fireworks displays have been cancelled this year, however, its reason is not what you may think. Victoria’s State government has officially announced the cancellation of the Australia Day fireworks in Docklands out of respect for bushfire victims amid Australia’s unprecedented and ferocious bushfire season.
The cancellation is not the first, with Geelong and the City of Whitehorse in Melbourne’s east also scrapping their fireworks displays. Whilst in NSW, Parramatta has also cancelled its exhibitions, with fresh calls to abandon fireworks in South Australia as well.
This raises the question, that if Australians can be respectful to the struggles of bushfire victims in turbulent times, the same sensibilities and understanding ought to be placed on our Indigenous people. Therefore, should Australians not regard our First Nations people with greater sensitivity?
In Sydney, the Inner West Council has moved to scrap Australia Day celebrations all-together, in favour of Aboriginal Yabun festival which its leadership believes better reflects the views of Indigenous Australians.
The Yabun Festival is an opportunity to acknowledge the significance of our native people and is the largest one-day gathering and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in Australia.
Mayor Darcy Byrne said the move casts more progressive and contemporary attitudes on the tone of the day, considering that there could be alternative views and methods to signify the day.
“For Aboriginal people, January 26, marks the beginning of colonisation, dispossession, the removal of children and deliberate destruction of language and culture,” expressed an empathic Byrne.
In Victoria, Darebin, Yarra and Moreland Councils have already moved to cease observing 26 January as Australia Day. Fremantle in Western Australia has also done the same, as growing counter-movement has emerged refuting the relevance of the national holiday.
“There’s no need for the community to lose anything but there is a more mature and respectful way for our Council to mark the day,” said Mr Byrne.