I cannot stand Australia day.
Call me unpatriotic, but while I think it is nice to have a day off to spend at the beach and have a few drinks with friends, the basis of Australia day is something I find incredibly problematic. Not only does Australia Day fall on the day that marks the invasion of this land by the British Empire, it refuses to acknowledge just how damaging white Australia has been for Aboriginal people, with ramifications still experienced today.
You might want to argue that what we celebrate on Australia Day has changed over time—it’s less about the invading and colonising of Australia than it is a celebration of what Australia has become today. I don’t have a problem with celebrating Australian things like Vegemite and lamingtons, or the incredible things Australian people have achieved – or celebrating the fact that I’m so lucky to live in a place that is sunny, warm, safe and beautiful. My problem with this day stems from the fact that is another day that silences and ignores the voices of Indigenous people. From day one, that specifically being the 26th of January 1788 when Arthur Phillip claimed British ownership of Australia, the Indigenous people of this land have been treated with complete disrespect, humiliation, and violence.
And it still happens today. Prime Minister Tony Abbott, as recently as December 2013, made a $43 million cut of funding to Indigenous legal aid, despite the fact that Indigenous people are 18 times more likely to be in prison than non-Indigenous people. Interesting, considering the fact that Abbott claimed he wanted to be a “minister for Indigenous affairs” as part of his election campaign last year. Abbott has also been quoted with embarrassingly ignorant attitudes towards Indigenous people, including this in 2010: “There may not be a great job for [aboriginal people] but whatever there is, they just have to do it… And if it’s picking up rubbish around the community, it just has to be done” because apparently Indigenous people aren’t capable of or worth anything more than rubbish pickers, right?
Similarly, Christopher Pyne has plans to revamp the Australian education system, because he claims the current education is too “left leaning”. Pyne believes that “The truth should be told about what we did to Indigenous people, but also the truth about the benefit of civilisation…The first part of our story is the Indigenous part, but then there’s the other part and that needs to be told as well. That’s why we need a balanced view.” Ahhh, yes. That ‘other part’, in which we are unable to name the different aboriginal clans that existed in the places we now live, can barely recognise aboriginal languages, and continue to ignore that fact aboriginal life expectancy is significantly lower than the life expectancy of non-aboriginal people. Balanced indeed.
Aboriginal activist Michael Mansell has said, “Australia is the only country that relies on the arrival of Europeans on its shores as being so significant it should herald the official national day. The USA does not choose the arrival of Christopher Columbus as the date for its national day. Like many other countries its national day marks independence.” While Australia is still attached to the monarch, I don’t see how moving Australia Day to a different date would be overwhelmingly detrimental (especially in comparison to how detrimental white Australia has been for aboriginal people anyway, ja feel?).
I don’t expect change to happen over night, but I do think that it’s very easy for non-Indigenous people to shrug their shoulders and say it’s time to ‘move forward’ or that ‘the past is in the past’ when they are the ones who do not have to live with the ramifications of colonisation and the mistreatment of aboriginal people. I can’t necessarily speak for Indigenous people either–there are many different views and opinions of Australia Day, some even considering it “Survival Day”. Nevertheless I think it is important to stop ignoring the atrocities of Australia’s past, to stop celebrating on a day that falls on the day of invasion and massacre, and time to start listening to the aboriginal people of Australia.
Still not convinced? Watch this video of comedian Aamer Rahman talking about Australia/Invasion Day.
Words by MADELEINE ER (who you can witness getting mad about things on her twitter)