Guest Post: We need to talk about 26 January

Thursday, 26 January 2017

It’s no secret that many Australians hold different views about the date of 26 January as our national day.

Some people mark it as #SurvivalDay; a day to recognise the survival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture. Others consider it #InvasionDay; a day of mourning. Some Australians see it as a day to
celebrate their new citizenship, or what it means to them to be an Australian. Others don’t engage at all. Some just see it as a public holiday or a day to listen to the @triplej#Hottest100.

What is important is that we can openly and honestly talk about these diverse views and acknowledge the contention of this particular date.

However you spend 26 January, it’s important to educate yourselves and others on Australia’s true history. Twitter is leading those conversations in ways we have never seen before and conversations about 26 January have increased dramatically:

  • Number of Tweets mentioning #ChangeTheDate have grown 850% since 2016.
  • Number of Tweets using #InvasionDay grew 200% from 2014-2016.
  • Number of Tweets using #SurvivalDay grew 200% from 2014-2016.

The facts speak for themselves. People want to talk about 26 January, they want to take a long hard look at our history and future. They want to talk about what it means to be an Australian.

We’re growing up as a country. Let’s not shy away from it and be upfront about the fact that at the end of the day we all love Australia in some way – but must embrace it, warts and all.

Let’s be frank and open about our true history. 26 January 1788 is the date Captain Arthur Phillip claimed the land of Sydney Cove in the name of the British Empire. This was after Britain went against European international law claiming it was terra nullis - empty land and belonging to no one - when the Aboriginal population at that time was similar to the combined populations of the Northern Territory and Tasmania today.

It’s an accepted fact that Australia has a long, impressive history prior to the landing of the British, including being the first bakers in the world,
surviving through the ice ages (even in Tasmania) and producing the oldest rock art in the world. More of this incredible history emerges every year.

What we need to acknowledge is that the British didn’t just rock up and the next 200 years were full of peaceful negotiations, respect, and goodwill. There was bloodshed, violence, devastation, and dispossession. It was the beginning of the violence (and resistance) of the Frontier Wars - where people fought and died for their country - centuries of conflict between the British and Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, which lasted from 1788 into the 1900s.

We need to be straight up about this and the impact this history has on people at a personal level. Like the fact that my grandfather (of ‘Caucasian appearance’) was jailed for being in love with my Aboriginal grandmother. That wasn’t 200 years ago; it was decades ago. Or that my great-grandmother was taken from her father at a young age and placed in a mission in Western Australia. And my grandmother and two aunties all finished up in the same mission.

These conversations are difficult to face up to since it gives people feelings of anger, guilt, denial and frustration – and that’s okay. What’s important is that we just own up to the fact these are hard conversations but ones that must be had.

We need to bring everyone along in this conversation, but we can’t shy away from these truths. They should be variously commemorated, marked, mourned, and celebrated.

I am a proud Yawuru woman with Irish, German and British heritage – all important parts of my identity that make me who I am and that define me as an Australian.

I find 26 January a hard date to celebrate as our national day. I also respect that many Australians are strongly connected to this day. I will be honest and say I don’t have an answer on when it should be. People may say that’s copping out and maybe it is. All I ask is that we open up a robust conversation and that it’s inclusive and respectful.

Everyone has their story, and there are many Australians that want a day to celebrate what makes this country great. What we can talk about is how we can celebrate in a way that is inclusive of all Australians.

What can you do?

The first step is educating yourself on Australia’s true history. Whatever you do tomorrow, make sure you’re respectful and thoughtful as to how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people view this day. I recommend following accounts like @IndigenousX, @NITV and @AIATSIS to get some great commentary, insight, and to join the conversation on Twitter.