Aboriginal People and Australia Day

Ray Wilson is a proud Ngemba man and Indigenous Member of the Indigenous Peoples and Reconciliation Policy Committee for NSW Labor.

This year marks 230 years of colonisation of Australia. It also marks the beginning of 230 years of the butchering, rape, theft and murder of my people. My friends, my family, my ancestors - my history.  Safe to say, celebrating Australia Day - the version being pushed for political points at the moment, anyway - the one that wipes out my people’s pain and suffering as part of an alternative history where contemporary Aboriginal people should be grateful for the crimes committed against us - is not a day I chose to celebrate in this form. Instead I will bring my family, friends and community together to commemorate our continued survival. I have chosen to commemorate that date in this manner for my entire life.

It seems entertaining for fringe political parties to use Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio as political football, but they do forget that they are kicking real people and creating more harm than good.

The arguments most commonly cited for keeping Australia Day on the 26th January rely on appeals to tradition, and patriotism. Australia Day is part of our cultural heritage, and only some extreme Lefty weirdo’s want it changed. That’s what I read, anyway. Apparently, the Left have some far reaching conspiracy to destroy Aussie traditions and tear down cultural icons or celebrations like our day of national recognition.

Sounds scary, right?

But here’s the thing - fear mongering is just a strategy being used to stop real debate and thought about our history. Fear is a radical tool of the Right and Far Right to undermine thought and true discussion. It is fact that colonisation led to the decimation of Aboriginal culture and people. It represented the theft of an entire nation, with no reparation or treaty implemented to make amends to the original owners of the land.

That is fact.

Recently US President Donald Trump stated an intention to relocate the capital of the State of Israel by moving the US Embassy from the current capital, Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is stated as being in recognition of the rights of Jewish people as traditional owners of the land! It also ignores the incursions Israel has made on the West Bank in dispossessing Palestinians from their homes, and the butchering of Palestinian people by Israel to support the current status quo. And yes, I am aware that there is bloodshed on both sides - there is in any conflict - the point is that we ignore the wrong actions of a group we admire and support - or find ways to morally justify them - rather than expect those people we admire to be responsible for actions that cross that moral line. In this case, in the name of the Bible and God - the same one who said ‘thou shalt not kill’ - as opposed to ‘thou shalt not kill, except for gain, retaliation or people you see as an enemy’. Or in the case of our own history, perhaps more like: “we wanted your land, because we can make more profit from it than you can.”

I recall reading many Australian Liberal and Far Right Wing commentaries applauding Trump’s honesty and strength in the move. I am still waiting for those same people to acknowledge the need to do the same thing in this country.

When are we giving ownership back to the people the land was stolen from?

That's right - never.

Because we are so unable to admit that the colonisation of this country was an illegal act that we disclaim responsibility for all the horrible crimes that occurred as part of the process - including the theft of an entire land from the rightful owners. No Right Wing support there - it would mean admitting those same right wing people (as well as the Far Left and every other person who came to this country - ironically in a boat!) have profited for generations from the illegal theft of Australia from Aboriginal people.

So let's acknowledge that for a moment - it’s part of our Australia Day history as well. Here is a radical solution - for now, anyway. Why not allow Aboriginal people to celebrate Australia Day as Invasion Day if they wish - as stated, it is part of our history as well. Why do we ask Aboriginal people to forget their devastation in order to glorify our colonial history? Are we as Australians so morally weak that we cannot admit the mistakes of the past? Is it free speech if we say Aboriginal people must just get over it, silence our voices and forget that our ancestors were killed, raped, incarcerated, made slaves and had their children and culture stolen from them?

If we had lost World War Two, no matter how many centuries passed, Australians would feel pain if we were made to celebrate the day that Nazism and Hitler destroyed our culture and way of life. It amazes me that Australians struggle to make the parallel connection - that this is precisely what we are expecting Aboriginal people to do. Invasion is Aboriginal history, as well as Australian history. Why can we not allow both realities be recognised on Australia Day?

Parties like the Greens often trot out Aboriginal issues when it suits their political agenda or they want to make the national news. But in the end, sadly they have always lacked the political courage and commitment to those same issues to actually work with Aboriginal communities and see what Aboriginal people need. It is easier to trot the issues out for the limelight and political gain, and then put them back in the cupboard until the next time they want to make a political statement. Not a strategy that will ever achieve real change for Aboriginal Australians.

Both progressives and Aboriginal people want the date of Australia Day changed; there is no doubt about that and the change will happen in time. So until then we must wait. Time is all we have.

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