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Australia Day & January 26

I am going to say something controversial as an Aboriginal person of Australia, in the lead up to “Australia Day” and January 26, but please bear with me as I do. This opinion does not mean that I am not pro-Aboriginal nor does it seek to take away from years of heartache of dispossession.

Australia Day/January 26

I am going to say something controversial as an Aboriginal person of Australia, in the lead up to “Australia Day” and January 26, but please bear with me as I do. This opinion does not mean that I am not pro-Aboriginal nor does it seek to take away from years of heartache of dispossession. But Australia Day: we shouldn’t be shouting “Invasion Day” and no we probably shouldn’t change the date. But it isn’t really the date that matters, we need to focus our efforts on correcting misconceptions about the origin of Australia Day and redefine as a nation what an “Australia Day” should be, for all peoples of Australia.

January 26: It is certainly hotly debated and a heavily protested date in the Australian calendar. A large portion of the Aboriginal population across the nation refer to the date as “Invasion Day” or a “Day of mourning”, and rightfully so if you consider for decades this country has lived under the misconception that the date is believed to celebrate the Proclamation of British Sovereignty over Eastern Australia in Sydney Cove with the raising of the British Flag by Arthur Phillip. For the Aboriginal population, under this falsehood, they have had to watch year after year droves of people dancing and celebrating what to their ancestors was the start to the most devastating time in their history, a time of great genocide and invasion. It is certainly warranted and understandable that Aboriginal people today don’t want to stand for celebrating that, and expect that our Governments won’t tolerate it either. But as mentioned above, this is a massive misunderstanding of the history of the date of the 26th of January. And perhaps what people should be lining the streets to protest is not the date, but the gross confusion that has occurred to why we celebrate “Australia Day” on January 26.

So first, let’s correct some misconceptions, firstly, Captain Cook did not land in Botany Bay on January 26, he landed on the April 29, 1770. Nor was it this date that the First Fleet arrived, they actually arrived on the 18th of January at Botany Bay, and then later transferred to Sydney Cove on the 26th, which is where perhaps the biggest misunderstanding has come about. Whilst, it is true that Arthur Phillip arrived on that date, and the officers did have a drink around the flag on the beach while unloading, there was no proclamation of British Sovereignty declared on that date. That proclamation did not happen until the 7th of February. In an excerpt from the Journal of Arthur Bowles Smyth, The Surgeon on the Lady Penrhyn, 1787-1789, this is made evident:

"On the following morning, 7 February, with the colours flying and the military band playing, the whole company of the colony, besides those needed on the ships, was assembled in the Parade Ground – the convicts forming a circle seated on the ground, the marines behind them – to hear the Governor and Commander in Chief formally inaugurate the government of the new colony".

In fact, there are many sources that substantiate that the 7th of February was the date that Sovereignty was declared over the Eastern-seaboard of Australia. So, on that knowledge, should we, as Aboriginal people, not protest for “Invasion Day”, or reflect on a “Day of Mourning” on the 7th of February each year instead of the 26th.

Moreover, I will go as far to say that, the 26th of January should be the date that as Aboriginal people we should celebrate together as a nation, under the premise we redefine what it is we are celebrating of course. On the 26th of January 1948, Arthur Calwell on behalf of the Chifley Government introduced the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948, creating the status of Australian nationality, and thus the Australian citizen rather than British subjects. This included the Indigenous people of Australia, so for the first time in our history, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people were joined as one. Moving forward, if we are to consider Reconciliation, Treaty of even a Voice to Parliament, perhaps understanding this date and our history, and acknowledging that history would be the best start and chance of success moving forward. Moreover, our Labor Government should be celebrating that it was their Government who made this bold move and attempt to move away from British sovereignty back in 1948. That same Government, has the chance again today to unite Australia as one. So, no, we shouldn’t change that date, as it isn’t going to fix the problem. We should focus our efforts into correcting misconceptions and redefining what “Australia Day” is. But if we do the change the date it would simply be for a fresh start to correct said misconceptions.

So, moving forward, what should Australia Day be and look like? In my opinion, whatever date that may be, is a day that needs to be inclusive of all Australians. It should be a date of celebrating the country, not its peoples. By celebrating country, the nation has the chance to reflect and relish in the beautiful land on which we walk and play, the seas in which we swim and the skies that bless us with the sun, the rain and all the in between that makes our landscape so diverse, interesting and beautiful. A country that has fed and provided resources for us for millennia. We need a way that we can move forward as one people, as Australians. That is not to deny our history, because it certainly isn’t a pretty one, but to tell it correctly, reflect on that, and celebrate how far we have come as a nation.

What’s more, we are a resilient culture, we can bear this burden of a date and even the current misconceptions based on its meaning and origin for just a while longer, and perhaps focus our efforts and the nations efforts to grab the attention of Government to work toward the bettering of life in our remote communities, consider the current situation in Alice Springs, we should be standing up for them, as Aboriginal people and as a nation. Would changing the date help them?

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