Australia, Who The Bloody Hell Are You?
As January 26 approaches for 2019, there has been an increase, more perhaps than in previous memory, of public discussion and impassioned debate about the event we have come to know as ‘Australia Day’.
Established during the era of the White Australia Policy, and originally involving reenactments of invasion, where Indigenous people were forcibly coerced to perform, the event has been held on various dates since its conception in 1935 -- while January 26 has specifically been acknowledged as a day of ‘Mourning and Protest’ since 1938.
While the current leaders of both major political parties have already proactively come out to assert their party’s commitment not only to Australia Day as an event, but to it being held on January 26, thousands of people are expected to protest at Invasion Day rallies in Melbourne, and more around the country.
So why this division between people who are hitting the pavement to walk their talk, and the political leaders of this nation?
Australia Day is a political event -- it's the brand our leaders want to apply to the current population -- while the protests and the heated discussions being shared around the nation speak of the public's will to retain a more honest national identity.
The resistance movement to ‘Australia Day’ as an event has two essential focuses -- first, the fact that the day reinforces the 'heroic coloniser myth' upon a land which was invaded, and second, that Australians are a diverse population which includes many who would have been excluded under the White Australia Policy.
Some people think the rallies, which have consistently grown in number each year, are focused solely on ‘changing the date’ of the event -- and as the hashtag #changethedate can attest, many do want to change the date itself.
But many of the rallies are actually focused on abolishing the event, and changing the performative nationalism which is being imposed -- engaging instead in truth-telling of the history and people of this land. This can be explored through the #changethenation threads.
The way Australia is officially branded is ideological -- it infiltrates the ways in which education formally and informally takes place, and this includes how history is acknowledged or denied through the naming of regions, establishment of monuments, and the rhetoric employed by politicians and media.
While Indigenous and non-indigenous people now have a shared history of more than 200 years, very little of the land and people pre-invasion is formally acknowledged or included by way of cartography, politics, or monuments by the government, and this push to cement Australia Day as a continuing tradition adds to an already biased narrative.
Combined with the limited general knowledge held by the general population of post-invasion history, i.e. massacres, dispossession, stolen wages (aka slavery), blackbirding, or Stolen Generations, it is important to consider that this ‘branding’ and biased telling of history is a key part of ongoing structural racism.
The first people of this land are acknowledged as the longest continuing culture in the world, having established complex trade routes, sustainable farming, intricate social and political structures, and agriculture well before British invasion. This is a fact acknowledged and noted within academic work and research here in Australia, and around the world.
But it also flies in the face of the Terra-Nullius lie and narrative which many Australian voters were taught during their formal schooling. Importantly, despite sovereignty never being ceded, and war never being declared nor won by the colonisers, Australia remains the only Commonwealth Nation to hold no treaty with the First People of this land.
A lack of acknowledgment about the complete history of this land, be it within structural acts, or language, is something which allows divisive tactics to be employed by politicians, businesses, and people who profit from controversy and misinformation.
A very simple but important example is the use and understanding of the term ‘Aboriginal’, and the ways in which Aboriginal voices are pitted against one another, as though only one might be valid.
Aboriginal is a word which entered the lexicon only with colonisation, and is now applied generally to as many as 500 unique and distinct people groups, creating what is known as a pan-indigenous identity. Not understanding this may lead to someone believing that one Aboriginal person can stand as a representative for all Aboriginal people.
This would be similar to accepting, for example, one French or one German person’s views and beliefs as reflective as representing the entire continent of Europe.
This is why you may hear from one person who identifies as Aboriginal, and wishes to support the practice of Australia Day, but then hear from others who also identify as Aboriginal but are calling for the date to be changed, or the event to be abolished.
Difference of opinion is not a sign of dysfunction, just as non-indigenous Australians do not all share the same opinions, so too can Indigenous people differ in their stances on various issues.
But while some commentators and politicians have argued that debating or analysing Australia Day is a waste of time, or "indulgent self-loathing", I would argue the opposite. Ignoring the ways in which falsely perpetuating the heroic coloniser myth, while neglecting truth-telling within the structures, systems, monuments, and politics, impacts the health and functioning of the entire nation.
It is symptomatic of broader issues, which is why the conversations continue to take place.
Racism won’t diminish, nor gaps close, while misinformation about the First People of this land continues to be spread, and while we have generations being encouraged to engage in uninformed, performative nationalism through pushing events such as Australia Day.
Is having citizenship ceremonies forcibly held on a certain date, complete with dress code, reflective of the identity of this nation? And more importantly, do we want it to be?
Australia Day as an event originated from the self-indulgent glorification of invasion, and this cannot be retroactively shaped to be an inclusive celebration of all that this land is.
Holding it on January 26 furthers the fire which burns against progress, against truth-telling of the actual history and future of all who call this place home.
We need to not just change the date, but to change the event, acknowledge and embrace the truth and stories of this land and its history.
This is a crucial step we need to take, working together, to help build a positive, collective future for all Australians.