This Australia Day, we're all responsible for working towards a more inclusive future. Photo: Getty
That I don't celebrate "Australia Day" is going to be of no shock to anyone. The 26th of January for me has always been a day of attending protests, of going to Invasion Day events, or even just of hiding away at home avoiding the lot of it. This date has long been a day of protest for Aboriginal people; from the 1938 Day of Mourning and the Aboriginal Conference, to 40,000 people who marched in 1988 protesting the Bicentennial celebrations and calling for land rights, to the commemoration of 40 years of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 2012; made infamous due to then Prime Minister Julia Gillard losing her shoe whilst being escorted away from protesters. This year promises to be no different, with protests planned around the country.
Perhaps I have rose-tinted glasses on but when remembering how Aboriginal protests were perceived by the rest of this country when I was younger, it feels like there was more acceptance. It was almost expected that we would protest on the day which commemorates our displacement and the destruction of our lands, cultures and families. In addition, I don't remember seeing cars with Australian flags flying from their windows, drunk people draping flags around their shoulders, and people taking to social media to complain when racist t-shirts are removed from the shelves of major retailers. Jingoistic sentiments are on the rise and questioning this phenomenon seems to be met with ignorance or hostility; prominently shown in John Pilger's 2014 documentary Utopia.
I recently got into a debate with someone who claimed there was nothing offensive about the slogan "Australia: we eat meat, drink beer and speak English". I pointed out that I've lived here 36 years and I only do one of those things so is my presence here wrong? I have had people close to me and my family cut contact because they are a "proud Australian" and by questioning this day I am raining on their parade. Amusingly, I have been told "If you don't like it then leave". Certainly it feels like the History Wars during the Howard years did a lot of damage and we are having to fight harder for recognition than ever before.
Aboriginal activist Celeste Liddle.
I was asked my opinion on an ad produced by Meat and Livestock Australia and featuring cricket broadcaster Richie Benaud. My answer was that though it had generated much social media derision, the ad did not surprise me. It, in fact, exactly represented how I, and many other Aboriginal people, perceive Australia Day: a celebration for white men who watch sport, eat meat and ignore the historical facts of this country. From a feminist perspective, that the sole woman invited to Richie's BBQ was responsible for providing baked goods was also unsurprising. This ad was simply a two minute snippet of what we see publicly leading up to this date every single year.
There is mixed opinion sometimes on how we, as Aboriginal people, approach this awareness building within this country. Do we provide Indigenous voices within mainstream forums on Australia Day or do we continue to protest in the hope that the rest of Australia finally notices? Certainly Adam Goodes highlighted some of these conflicts in his acceptance speech for his Australian of the Year Award in 2014.
Recently, I witnessed discussion regarding Jessica Mauboy's choice to perform at the Australia Day concert at the Opera House. Whilst I would never make the same choice as Mauboy, I believe that she is not the only performer on that stage who could make a stand against the white-washing of Australian history. There is, in fact, proud history of prominent non-Indigenous people making public stands in support of Indigenous Australia. The "Sorry" tracksuits that Midnight Oil wore during the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics made international headlines. In 1983, David Bowie made a bold statement on the situation of Aboriginal people in his video clip for Let's Dance. In 2003, whilst being inducted into the Cricket Hall of Fame, Ian Chappell challenged the Australian Cricket Board to formally recognise the 14 Aboriginal players who toured England in 1868. There are many more examples but such acts of solidarity and reconciliation have become a rarity in Australia today.
To this end, I wish to challenge my fellow Australian citizens to follow the examples of people who were truly about a more inclusive country and take a stand. Offer to perform as a supporter at a Survival Day concert. Attend an Invasion Day march. Read up on the Frontier Wars and the legal fiction of Terra Nullius. Even just learn about the traditional owners of the land you're standing on and recognise them. Australia Day will always be a day of mourning for the First Peoples of this country, but it is possible to work towards a positive and more inclusive future.