If there is ever a day that I don’t feel Australian, it would be on Australia Day.
My mother is a fifth-generation Australian of English and Irish heritage and my father is Munanjahli and an Australian-born South Sea Islander.
Their marriage in 1968 for their families was the first time that “lives of black and white entwined”, in the words of Noonuccal poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal. Their union blended two very different histories, cultures and experiences of citizenship in this country, which was apparent throughout my childhood and into adulthood.
The disconnect I feel on the January 26 is not a rejection of my mother’s history. Rather, it is a rejection of the privileging of one version of history at the expense of another. I simply cannot be part of the collective amnesia that sweeps the nation on January 26 each year. This amnesia is evidenced in our current prime minister choosing the arrival of the First Fleet as the “defining moment” of our national identity.
This nation has a history that extends well beyond the past 227 years, not to mention a few more inclusive “defining moments” since then.
There is no doubt that the arrival of the First Fleet was a “defining moment” for this nation, but defining for vastly different reasons for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. For me, this day is worthy of commemoration, not celebration.
Australia Day celebrations to me feel a bit like what ANZAC Day would be without a dawn service. It just doesn’t feel right or honourable to those that have gone before us. The iconic Australia Day images of people adorning various flag paraphernalia, parades, boozy BBQs, and bikini-clad girls on beaches shows complete disregard for the Indigenous lives, lands and languages that were lost as a result of the British invasion of this country and the persisting inequalities that exist.
So how do I commemorate Invasion Day? I march. I march not because I’m bitter or stuck in the past, or ungrateful for the privileges I enjoy today. Rather, I march in remembrance for those who lost their lives simply defending their own land and people. I march with pride and pay tribute to the innumerable acts of resistance of our warriors and the ongoing resilience of our communities.
I march with my children so they will never forget about who they are, where they come from and how they came to be where they are today.
Last year, my husband and I took our eldest three children to participate in the Invasion Day march organised by the Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy. As we walked through the city to join the march wearing Aboriginal flag T-shirts, we noticed the responses of our fellow Australians. Many averted their gaze or looked disturbed simply by our presence. I just didn’t feel very Australian at all.
More than 1,000 of us marched across Victoria Bridge to South Bank where the official Australia Day celebrations were being held. We noted the newly erected fences around the two main entrances to the South Bank Parklands and the heavy police guard ensuring that we didn’t spoil their parade by entering. It was a stark reminder of our standing in this country.
We remain on the margins, literally and figuratively; not worthy of the same national rituals of reverence and remembrance that our fellow Australians enjoy.
The Australia Day Council proudly boasts of its commitment to reconciliation, proclaiming that its “programs play an important role in the symbolic aspects of reconciliation”. Well, yes, celebrating Australia Day on the January 26 is certainly symbolic of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
For me personally, celebrating Australia Day on this day is a symbolic and irreconcilable act of exclusion. This exclusion is made all the more obvious with the Meat and Livestock’s Australia Day promotion (below) encouraging us to “eat more lamb”. The omission of iconic Indigenous Australians from the guest list (or any non-white Australian for that matter) reminds us of the continued white-washing of Australia’s history, national identity and day of celebration.
That I choose to commemorate Australia Day by marching does not mean I privilege my father’s history over my mother’s. Rather the experiences, meanings and memories of Indigenous Australia should be bound up in the nation’s collective consciousness.
Our national day of celebration should not require me to choose between mum’s side or dad’s or between black and white. Our national day of celebration should be inclusive, meaningful and respectful to all of us as Australians, not just some of us.
As you celebrate Australia Day, be it at the beach, the backyard or a barbie, take just a moment to consider the significance of that place you meet on, and not just since the arrival of the First Fleet.
How did you get to that place and who might’ve been there before you? Do you know about the nation on whose land you stand? If not, ask yourself why you don’t know the stories of your own country? Hey, maybe you could even step out to one of the marches taking place in our capital cities and commemorate January 26 with your fellow Australians – the first peoples of the land that you proudly call home.
And maybe then, you will come to understand why this really should be a day to commemorate, not celebrate.
Rallies & marches on Invasion Day
Canberra: National Day of Mourning Community Walk to Aboriginal Tent Embassy, commences 10.30am at Garema Place Civic
Sydney: Rally and March to Victoria Park, commences 11am at The Block
Brisbane: Rally & March to Musgrave Park, commences 10.30am at Parliament House
Melbourne: Smoking Ceremony, Rally & March to Birrarung Marr Park, commences 10am at Parliament House
Adelaide: Justice and Peace Candlelight Walk, commences 8pm at Government House
Hobart: Rally commencing 11.45am at Parliament House Lawns