Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard has chosen to acknowledge January 26 with a powerful statement about the trauma the date holds for Australia’s First Nations peoples.
“Today is a day that will give rise to complex and conflicting emotions,” Gillard wrote on Instagram.
“For many, it will be a time of deep pain and sorrow. I want to acknowledge that 26 January is scorched into the consciousness of many First Nations people as a day of profound mourning.”
Gillard, who now chairs mental health organisation Beyond Blue, said it was “vital to recognise the grief” the date holds, in one of the strongest calls to change the Australia Day public holiday from a former Prime Minister to date.
“As the Chair of Beyond Blue – an organisation with a mission to support everyone in Australia to achieve their best mental health – I believe it’s vital we recognise the grief that this day can evoke,” she continued.
“It’s a date connected to the ongoing impacts of colonisation. Dispossession, violence, disempowerment and the fracturing of ancestral and cultural knowledge are a source of historical and ongoing trauma that continues to impact on the social and emotional wellbeing of First Nations people.
“As we understand more about our history, more Australians are reflecting on how to engage with 26 January. These conversations may be challenging but they are necessary for us to mature and heal as a nation.
“Beyond Blue continues to advocate for action to Close the Gap, to improve social and emotional wellbeing, and to prevent suicide. We support the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a First Nations Voice to Parliament.
“While we cannot change our past, we can learn from it. If we accept the truth of our shared history, we can walk together in a spirit of healing and reconciliation towards a brighter future.
“If you find this day difficult, support is available. Contact 13YARN or the Beyond Blue Support Service on 1300 22 46 36.”
While Australians are increasingly acknowledging the repercussions of celebrating a day that holds so much pain for First Nations people, those in power are slower to echo the same sentiments.
Gillard, who served as Australia’s 27th Prime Minister between 2010 to 2013, doesn’t hold the same power she once did but the former politician still represents an important political voice in Australia.
However, he did overturn a Morrison Government ban on public servants working during the public holiday, saying it was “fine” for Australians to take another day off instead.
On the morning of January 26, Albanese attended a First Nations Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony in Canberra.
The Welcome to Country was led by elder Aunty Violet Sheridan, who called on Australians to support the Voice to Parliament in the government referendum later this year.
Albanese echoed Sheridan’s words, when he asked Australians to consider the consequences of voting no.
“I say this: if not now, when? If not now, when will this change occur? And if not the people of Australia this year, who will make this change which will improve our country, improve our national unity,” Albanese told the media after the ceremony.
We hope that these acknowledgements signify changes to come.