I’ve always known Australia Day was kind of disgusting.
I wasn’t just disgusted by the bogans running around with their Australian flag capes while getting seriously trashed and abusing anyone who looks remotely ‘ethnic’ – there was something deeper and more unnerving that I didn’t quite know how to explain.
Although the Australian school curriculum had never truly explained the attempted genocide committed by European invaders against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, I knew that our indigenous communities had been subjected to abuse spanning generations. I knew that there had been an effort to ultimately ‘integrate’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into European societal norms and culture, and that this had resulted in the erasing of indigenous identity and serious consequences that we still see today.
I remember one of the first times I questioned Australia Day out loud. I was in an Australian history class in my early high school years and we were discussing the day. I had made the connection that Australia Day fell on or around the arrival of the first fleet, which also coincided with the start of generations of abuse and torment being suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
I told my teacher that Australia Day was a load of crap. She asked why. I told her I didn’t feel Australian on Australia Day. She asked me how I would identify myself if someone asked me what my nationality was, and I responded ‘Lebanese Australian.’ She said ‘Aha! THAT’S why you don’t like Australia day – you see yourself as Lebanese’.
‘No,’ I responded, ‘I don’t want to celebrate Australia day because Aboriginal people were invaded and killed by the people who arrived. They lost their culture because of the people who arrived.’
She didn’t like that response and went on to tell me that if I lived in Australia and enjoyed the freedoms of this country, then I needed to respect and celebrate Australia day so that I better appreciate my national identity. That it wasn’t us who had committed crimes against Aboriginal people and we had nothing to apologise for. Of course, this was before Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s national apology to Australia’s indigenous people.
But that’s not a good enough answer. It’s not good enough to say it’s ‘unAustralian’ not to celebrate Australia Day on a day that marks the start of the destruction of the world’s oldest known culture. It’s not good enough to say that the day means ‘more’ than the invasion and its consequences. It’s not good enough to assume that my grandparents’ Lebanese heritage makes me less Australian than anyone else.
I recognise that ‘we’ didn’t kill those people and that ‘we’ didn’t destroy their land, but absolutely everyone is complicit in the overwhelmingly horrifying statistics that mark the suffering and trauma that continues to impact indigenous communities. Aboroginal and Torres Strait Islander people TODAY:
- are incarcerated at 15x the national rate
- are likely to die 10 years younger than non-indigenous Australians
- have an unemployment rate four times higher than the national rates
- suffer with women experiencing abuse up to 40 times the rate of non-indigenous women
- are twice as likely to have a disability
- are three times more likely to have diabetes.
Over the last few months, Australians seem to be increasingly aware of the ridiculousness of Australia Day falling on the 26th of January. Although I recognise that this awareness comes after the government rejected years of work into Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians (YEAH. That’s right – Australia had no constitutional recognition of our indigenous communities nor do we have treaties that allow free expression of cultural laws and identity – it’s disgusting) and yes there are bigger issues – but I reject arguments that moving Australia Day is unimportant in the context of the stats you read above.
Australia Day is supposed to celebrate our national identity – and right now, that day happens to fall on a day that brought, and continues to bring, our first people a great amount of pain. It says a lot about political and social willingness to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the respect that they deserve.
It’s time we change the date.
Happy invasion day; happy day of mourning.
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