Today is a day that divides many people from the land down under.
January 26th – Australia Day. A national holiday to celebrate our achievements as Australians, to recognise how far we’ve come, and to reflect on our culture.
The local park down by the beach ran a huge Australia Day event, and naturally, we all headed on down.
It was a very pro-Australia Day experience. Flags abounded, Union Jacks on clothing, and green and gold was the norm. Massive theme park rides were spaced on the perimeter of the park, food trucks on one end, and a stage for live music on the other.
These people came here to celebrate Australia day – or as was in our case, to take advantage of the free entertainment.
But there is a movement, a wave of people that has been increasing exponentially, that believes we should not celebrate Australia Day on January 26th.
And I agree.
BUT that does NOT mean I am not proud to be an Australian.
January 26th is not the day the First Fleet landed in this country, as many people are led to believe. In fact it is believed to have occurred in 1788, somewhere between Jan 18-20, and the 26th is the day the Union Jack was raised in Sydney Cove, to declare British Sovereignty.
Australia Day was celebrated in Sydney on January 26th in those early days, before other states took on the holiday too, but they did this on different days, like Tasmania’s ‘Regatta Day,’ or South Australia’s ‘Proclamation Day.’ This was the case for 200 years, and only in 1935 did it become nationally recognised and celebrated, even then only being declared as a holiday in 1994.
In that way, Australia Day as we know it today, is fairly new.
The day January 26th, is known as ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Survival Day’ to these Anti-Aus Day Jan 26-ers. Because it signalled the end of 50,000 years of Indigenous occupation on this land, which then led to brutal colonisation. Massacres of the Aboriginal people took place, land was taken, and children removed from their parents. The stolen generation was born, and many Indigenous descendants grew up not knowing where they came from.
The pain, suffering and loss the Indigenous community experienced is more than profound. And that doesn’t include the repercussions echoing out to this current day. To think of what they have had to endure, not just over years, but decades and centuries, with oppression and hate and discrimination, when all they were doing were living on their land… a sorry will just not do.
But it was done. In 2008 the Australian Prime Minister formally apologised to the Aboriginal community – for the successive laws and policies of previous governments that inflicted severe pain and grief onto their families and communities.
January 26th, the day the Union Jack was raised in Sydney in 1788, is then a representation of all that preceded, and all that was lost to the Indigenous community when the First Fleet arrived. The slavery, the violence, the oppression. It is a day of mourning for many. Rightly so.
My ancestors were NOT from that First Fleet. In fact, in 1788, my ancestors were probably farming cattle in a remote and poverty-stricken land somewhere in the Balkan region of Europe. My parents came to Australia in 1970, for a better life. It is the story of so many European immigrants, and continues to be so to this day. They came from nothing, from having to work so hard just to be able to obtain, I don’t know, a bike… over the span of a YEAR… and the opportunity to come to a “land of plenty,” where stories of filling up a trolley with fruit and vegetables with only $2, and realising after their first pay check working in the factory, that they could achieve so much more here in months, than they could achieve over there in years… that is the history I grew up with.
I grew up hearing, how Australia saved my parents. In doing so, they saved my sister and I. I grew up hearing of the comparisons between my parents’ beloved native country, and the ‘lucky country.’ They have such respect for where they came from, and when you ask them their nationality – they are Australian. Proudly so.
I have seen more of my family come from overseas. They didn’t come here to brutalise and oppress any minority or otherwise group, just as my parents didn’t. No, they came here for a better life, for a chance at something greater, even to escape WAR. They came here because they heard things were good, and they wanted to see things for themselves.
They have all stayed. We ALL have.
The Australia I have lived with, and which has been represented to me, is a good one, a noble one. I know things are not perfect, and there is always something the government must do better. But here, there is democracy. Freedom of speech. There is strong multiculturalism. People are kind. People are friendly. People love to connect.
However, bad things were done, many, many years ago, and despite the fact that we can’t go back, we can try to make things work as a unified community.
A country, united as one.
Both black and white, coming together.
But it has to be a conscious and integrated effort from both parties. There are white people I know that complain of the country we live in, or talk about how shit Australia is, or how that ‘other’ country is soooo much better.
Well move then. Go on, piss off (as a true blue Aussie would say). Don’t hang around here gaining benefits and working and earning Australian coin, when you know of so much better.
You are ungrateful. We don’t want you.
Likewise I have heard some other pretty horrible things today. I have heard of Indigenous people at Invasion Day rallies, saying “F*&k Australia, hope it burns to the ground.”
This makes me terribly sad. Sad for the mourning this person would have experienced to want the country they live in, the country we ALL live in, to burn to pieces.
Like I said, both parties need to want to move forward, peacefully. Slandering will not make things better. And it unfortunately won’t change the past.
Whether like me, my ancestors were not part of that First Fleet, or like other Australians, perhaps they were… the power to want to change the future is out there. People want to make amends for the past, whether they are white or black… but a person living in Melbourne today, should not be blamed for what their Father did in February 1st 1985 for example… just as today’s First Fleet descendants that want to change for the better, should not be blamed for what their ancestors were part of from 1788 onwards.
The idea is out there, that Australia Day needs to be moved to another date, or it is abolished all together and another day that celebrates both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities coming together, is created.
I believe this is the only way forward. I think respect needs to be shown to the original people of this land, and January 26th and Australia Day, are synonymous no more.
I went to the park today. I was happy to be amidst our community of proud Australians – Australians that love the country they live in, the people in it, and the culture that lives on.
Was I celebrating Australia Day? Hmm, not quite. I was celebrating the life I live…
But that I do every day. Because I am grateful for the place that I reside in the world.
I am grateful for MY history. I am grateful for the choices my parents made. And I am grateful that change is coming to respect the life and culture of those who inhabited this land 200 years before any white people were on it.
I had my own family fun day, and I enjoyed the fact of some extra time together, with them.
I hope wherever you were in the world, your day of January 26 was great too…