This is not intended as a comprehensive guide to the crimes committed against black Australians, nor is it meant to supplant the multitude of indigenous voices speaking out against January 26. This will cover a brief history, and then suggest a solution to the impasse of this date, as we move forward as a single nation.
This was written on Dharawal land. It contains images and links to sites that may use images of Aboriginal and Islander people now deceased.
Australia, what is going on?
We’ve had a rough few weeks, arguments and insults left and right, threats of violence from some, and claims that the entire history of this nation is going to be erased, and that’s just the whitefellas. If anything, January 26 should come to represent the day irony died.
Also, the date of Australia Day needs to be changed.
Before you write this off as yet another bleeding-heart/leftist/hipster hot-take, consider this simple fact: Australia is the only country in the world that celebrates the date it was invaded by a foreign nation.
And we have to call it an invasion, because Australia is also the only Commonwealth nation, current or former, that does not have a treaty with Indigenous peoples. New Zealand signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, and today Maori culture is deeply linked with Kiwi identity.
Australia, meanwhile, claims that any attempts to change a plaque on a statue of Captain Cook (amending the claim that he “discovered” Australia in 1770, as determined by the High Court in 1992 – when it overturned terra nullius in the Mabo Decision) is the same as “what Stalin did”.
To call January 26 “Invasion Day” isn’t incorrect. There is no formal, legal agreement between the Traditional Owners and Custodians of this land and the colonisers who built here. Sovereignty was never ceded.
What’s the harm in celebrating Australia Day on January 26? For a start, there are the massacres and genocides committed against indigenous Australians – Appin, Myall Creek, Coniston, Bathurst, Convincing Ground, Gippsland, Whiteside and Kilcoy, Tasmania, the Stolen Generation, the NT Intervention, deaths in custody, slavery, the list goes on. The Waterloo Creek massacre of at least 50 Kamilaroi people took place on January 26 1838, the semicentenary of Arthur Philip raising the Union Jack over Sydney Cove. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and it only refers to killings, it doesn’t touch on the diseases and the disparity in health and life expectations that exist in modern Australia.
There were as many as 1,250,000 Aboriginals in 1788. By 1930, there were 50,000. Men. Women. Children. Driven over cliffs. Murdered by cannon fire. Shot on sight. Drowned. Poisoned. Bayoneted. Bodies strung up as a warning. Remains sent to museums.
This is the history we are celebrating on January 26 – because this is the date that signalled the start of these atrocities.
What’s the solution? Well, this last week, everyone has had a suggestion for the date to which Australia Day should be moved. Some have been interesting and well thought out. Others have been pointless, stupid, or tokenistic. So now, as a middle-class white male, I will attempt to solve the joint issues of racism and Australia Day once and for all.
Simply Changing the Date will do nothing. If all we do is follow the lead of Triple J’s Hottest 100 and shift the Public Holiday to the last weekend in January, we fall into the trap of sanctifying January 26. The National Day needs to stand for something, it needs to be a significant date with a greater meaning. It should represent unity, be easily understood, and it needs to be a clear moment of national pride. Unfortunately, Australia has few moments like this.
First, we need to adopt the Uluru Statement from the Heart in its entirety. Its rejection by the Turnbull government is an insult to all Australians. The Federal Government asked Indigenous communities what they wanted, and the answer was so offensive to their sensibilities, they rejected it out of hand. It could have been the unifying moment we need, building a new nation for all Australians by accepting the proposal for what it was. Instead, Malcolm Turnbull sent a clear signal that these jumped-up blackfellas should be careful not to rise above their station. The meaning was obvious: be grateful for what we give you. It’s not a dog-whistle when you use a bullhorn.
As a nation, we need to move immediately to establish policies that work for communities, rather than telling communities what is expected of them. The patronising, ineffective politicking, coming with healthy doses of overt racism, have created a toxic atmosphere when attempts are made to discuss systemic racism in Australia. Almost all ministries and departments need to be overhauled.
We need to move towards establishing treaties, work on true reconciliation and stop creating policies for Indigenous Australians, and start writing policies with Indigenous Australians.
And Nigel Scullion needs to be dumped as Minister for Indigenous Affairs. He didn’t care about Don Dale, he didn’t care about the Uluru Statement, and he doesn’t care about the impact of January 26.
Australia Day as we know it dates back to 1994. Plenty has been written about this fact. The public holiday on January 26 only goes back 24 years. There is nothing sacred about a tradition that wouldn’t be able to remember the miserable joke that was the Latham opposition, ironic, given his new status as guardian of white supremacy.
The first celebration of January 26 was in 1818, a date declared by Lachlan Macquarie, a man who, two years earlier, had his men shoot Aboriginals on sight and hang their bodies from trees as a warning to others. The first time January 26 was called Australia Day in all states and territories was in 1935, following a campaign by the Australian Natives’ Association – a group whose membership was restricted to white men born in Australia. In some ways, it can be argued that as a holiday, January 26 infers a position of nationhood as being wholly derived from European extraction.
In 1938, the first Day of Mourning was held.
Australia did not begin on January 26. Australia became a nation on January 1, 1901, at the basest level this should be the date we celebrate as the national holiday. Having said that, this date is not without its issues. One of the first major pieces of legislation passed in this nation was the White Australia policy – in place for seventy-two years. For the first sixty-six years of Federation, the Constitution enshrined in law the notion that Indigenous Australians were not to be counted as human beings.
Changing Australia Day to this date would solve some issues, but it would have to be a temporary fix, because of the troubling history that stemmed from January 1, 1901.
The only real solution to the problems of January 1st will involve Australia becoming a Republic, on January 1st. Most Australians can accept the inevitability of the Australian Republic. With this, we get a do-over on some of our history. It doesn’t undo the crimes of the past, the history of dispossession, discrimination and exclusion; yet it would provide an opportunity to forge a new history of an independent Australia, uniting under a new flag for all Australians.
Another advantage is Mabo Day on June 3 to replace the Queens Birthday public holiday, though we shouldn’t need to become a republic to make this happen.
The point here, Australia has had a long and complicated history of racism, and the tighter we hold on to January 26, the less likely we are to do anything to create an atmosphere of inclusion for all Australians. Even now, certain politicians are making hay from stirrings in conservative media about “African Gangs”, despite all evidence to the contrary.
This isn’t to say Australians, as individuals, are racist, but there is a long-standing system of government policy and positioning that has come from a racist origin, conscious and unconscious biases defining what Australia would mean for decades.
A national day of celebration should be a date that can be celebrated by all citizens. It should represent something significant, meaningful, and unifying. It should not be a glorification of the invasion of a sovereign land by a foreign, occupying force.
This is why we need to Change the Date.