Republished article. Original published on Indigenous X on 22 January, under the title of What kind of morality are they wanting us to celebrate on that day? as part of the Indigenous X Change The Date series. Support Indigenous media by becoming an Indigenous X patron on Patreon.
What are we really celebrating?
KAREN WYLD IS AN AUTHOR, FREELANCE WRITER AND CONSULTANT OF MARTU DESCENT, LIVING ON KAURNA LANDS.
That Day was once Many Days, as each state held their foundation days at different times of the year. The cry for a national day on 26 January came from the Australian Natives’ [sic] Association. Being vocal supporters of the White Australia policy, this Association’s membership was exclusively Australian-born white men of European descent. Their vision was a nation of people that shared the same laws, politics, culture, and ancestry.
That Day was never meant to symbolise unity or fairness.
People have been critical of That Day since it was first proposed, because behind the current date is a story of conflict and shame.
That Day: Invasion Day, Survival Day, Day of Mourning, Australia Day. A public holiday. A day of bbqs, fun in the sun, overblown nationalism, sorrow, and a spreading uneasiness.
In the lead up to That Day many stories are told in the media, in homes and the public sphere. Some of these stories have drifted far from the truth. And little wonder, for this nation was also built on fiction. And, in the great Aussie tradition, yarns of nation-building become more fanciful with each telling.
That Day is the beginning of a story, but this Once Upon A Time is told from many points of view. For some, it is a boys’ own adventure, filled with explorers, new frontiers and strange hopping beasts. For others, it’s an epic tale of founding fathers planting a flag on the no-longer mythical Terra Australis Incognita, benevolently granting the natives ‘civilisation’ and a wrathful god.
And there are other versions of this story. Truths that many have tried to erase from both books and memories, and even the tongues of First Peoples. Accounts of invasion, waves of violence, loss and grief, and culturally-biased control – as well as resistance, self-determination, strength and survival.
This continent has always been a land of story. For over 60,000 years songlines have criss-crossed over the land, out to the sea, and up into the skies. The British invaders, and later settlers from all corners of the globe, brought with them their own stories. As colonisation spread out across this continent, new stories were etched into ancient grounds.
The first of the new stories were that of Invasions. Horrific stories of massacres, murder, torture, kidnapping, and rape. English invasion of this continent was not a one-off event as, over many decades, more than 500 territories were invaded.
Crops Sown in Blood is the next chapter. Again, more of the above violence, with the addition of using slaves to plant colonial roots on stolen lands. Both First Peoples from this continent and other oceanic nations were coerced, or kidnapped and forced, to work for the colonists.
Then came the stories of Cultural Genocide. As settler-colonisation took root, so did the drive to alter the social structures, lifeways and cultures of First Peoples. This chapter features expulsion from ancestral lands; segregation; forcible removal of children to be assimilated, often trained for servitude; the forced coercercion towards Christianity; incarceration on missions and in children’s’ homes, accompanied by bans on cultural practices, languages, and law.
And there were new peoples to exclude, control and oppress; migrants that had managed to evade the White Australia policy that enforced racially-biased immigration. In a settler-colonisation, some people are more equal than others.
The Great Forgetting is the part of the story in which we now find ourselves: government, media and white academia control the narrative and whitewash history.
Through putting social pressure on migrants and their descendants to assimilate, the settler-colonisation minimalises unrest. And if anyone questions the narrative, then they are divisive. Un-Australian. And are told to go back to where they come from.
Of course, First Peoples aren’t to go back to where they come from. No, we must move on. Forget 230 years of violence, loss & grief, theft, and inequities – just be quiet.
These are just some of the stories whitewashed by a public holiday on 26 January. And into these big stories are woven 24 million equally important stories. How we all came to be here influences how we see here.
My ancestors were colonists (English), settlers (Irish) and First Peoples (Martu). You could say that I embody a nation in conflict. I’ve reflected on the role that my non-Indigenous fore-bearers had in supporting a status quo that disadvantaged First Peoples. But the not too distant draconian and racially-biased actions of governments, and the culturally-biased paternalism of missionaries, have had a direct impact on my life. This connects me to the blood, sweat and tears of my ancestors – white and blak.
Do I feel lucky to have been born here? Absolutely. Am I proud to be Australian. No. Not when the government, the opposition, and far too many citizens, show a lack of humanity towards First Peoples, refugees, and others who suffer the blows of inequity, bigotry and greed.
Stories, from songlines to colonial tales, the macro (nation) and the micro (individuals), are embed in the soil that we all call home. The story of That Day began in bloodshed and theft. It began with an invasion of Eora country, with the First Fleet planting a foreign nation’s flag on the lands of the Gadigal people.
The past cannot be changed but the next chapter is yet to be written. We can choose to unite these conflicting story-threads. We can choose to tell a story grounded in truth, justice, and a shared vision for the future.
That Day does not allow this process to happen.
Australia needs to collectively stop disrespecting a solemn day of memorial, and remove the public holiday from 26 January. And then change the day. Not just the date. Change the day to tell the real stories of Australia. If we cannot even manage to tell truthful stories, we cannot address the ongoing injustices caused by colonisation. If we continue to give preference to a whitewashed history, then what are settler-colonists really celebrating every Australia Day, regardless of the date? Attempted conquest.