It’s a day of mourning.
THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF 26 JANUARY
This year marks 250 years since the British explorer Captain James Cook arrived in Australia and incorrectly claimed it was ‘terra nullius’ – a Latin expression meaning ‘nobody’s land.’ However, the land was in fact inhabited by a culture which is thought to have been here for around 60,000 years prior to Captain Cook’s landing.
There's a common misconception that Captain Cook arrived in Australia on 26 January and that's why Australia Day is celebrated on this date. But actually, 26 January 1788 was the date Captain Arthur Phillip arrived with the First Fleet (and by this time, Captain Cook had been dead for years) and raised the Union Jack flag, claiming British sovereignty over the continent.
And, the day wasn't even declared as Australia Day until around 150 years later and since that time, the date of Australia Day changed many times. In fact, it was only 25 years ago that it actually became a national public holiday.
So, it seems the historical argument for clinging to 26 January as Australia Day doesn't even hold water and a lot of people are confused about why they're celebrating on that date in the first place.
WHAT 26 JANUARY MEANS TO INDIGENOUS PEOPLE
For Indigenous people on the other hand, 26 January has been a day of mourning and deep pain for over 250 years and is known as Survival Day or Invasion Day. Captain Arthur Phillip's planting of the Union Jack flag signalled the dawn of unimaginable violence against Indigenous people - massacres, systematic rape, oppression, countless Aboriginal deaths in police custody and the removal of children from their homes – known as the ‘Stolen Generation’ - much of which unbelievably continues today.
“For me, the 26th of January signifies survival and a show of strength. It’s a bit ironic because I’m not usually very symbolic in these types of things but when the other side of the argument are so vocal about keeping the date and not really understanding where we come from, I’ve got to take a stand,” says Indigenous rights advocate Luke Currie-Richardson.
“It’s about the survival of culture and the destruction the First Fleet brought across. It represents a lot of problems in this country and one of the main problems is a lack of empathy and understanding for other people that are seen as different, or not the norm, to white Australia,” Luke continues.
ABOLISH THE DATE
Putting aside the argument of when an appropriate date for Australia Day could be, it is difficult to see how we can celebrate the idea of being a unified nation when Indigenous people still continue to suffer at the hands of white Australia.
"How are we ready as a nation to have a day of celebration when the work has not yet been done?" questions Indigenous academic Amy Thunig.
"The day needs to be abolished. It’s a common misunderstanding we’re marching to change the date but we’re marching to change the nation. Many of us hold the view that we need to abolish the day."
"There are no treaties, sovereignty hasn’t been conceded and reparations haven’t been made. Having a national day of celebration positioned as being unifying implies and asserts the work has been done, the violence has been resolved, the reparations have been made and it’s not the case. The work hasn't been done," Amy continues.
"The works needs to be done first. The rent needs to be paid. We need a voice, we need truth and we need treaties. Until those things are in place, until that framework is laid, how can we declare that we are a unified nation?"
DO THE WORK
Unbelievably, Australia is the only major Commonwealth country without an Indigenous treaty and our Constitution contains no recognition of our First Nations people. How can we celebrate Australia being a unified nation when, embarrassingly, we are so far from 'closing the gap.'
"I’ll celebrate when the work has been done, I’ll celebrate when the treaties have been made and signed. I’ll celebrate when my people are no longer over-policed, over-incarcerated and facing unnecessary and violent removal of our children. I’ll celebrate when our sovereignty and our health and our strength is finally given the freedom from the oppression we’ve experienced for over 200 years. Then we can start to move forward and build something together better than what we’re currently living under," says Amy.
GET BEHIND THE CAUSE
If you'd like to get behind the cause, simply talking about change isn't enough. We need to bring action to create change. Attending a protest on 26 January is one of the best ways to show your support for our Indigenous brothers and sisters. There are protests happening around Australia including in all major cities.
"If you’re out to change the world, you’ll fail but if you’re out to change one person’s mind – that’s a generational change. That’s a change for that person, their kids, and their kids' kids after that. That’s how we change the perspective of Australia," explains Luke.
"I’ve met a lot of non-Indigenous people who are scared about throwing their faces behind our causes but come to our protests. Be there and show support. There was an elderly lady at a protest and she wanted me to hold the flag because she didn’t feel right. But, as a white person, you have the strength more than me. Carry my flag and shout the chants. In saying that, don’t speak for us, speak with us," says Luke.