Every year on January 26th, Australians are given a license to act like immature children, as if to mirror the illusion that Australia really is a “young country” and not an ancient land with 70,000 years of history written over its surface.
If you step out to beaches and parks across the country, ‘Australia Day’ is about booze and bikinis, and being “proud” to be “Australian”. But if you fall outside the narrow margin of Australian ‘values’, and refuse to accept this historical amnesia, Australia Day becomes one of exclusion.
I remember a few years ago, a flag-wielding young patriot drunkenly shouting in my face “Aussie Aussie Aussie” only to be confounded when I stared back at him blankly.
“What?! How do you not know it? Are you even Australian?” was his response.
This isn’t an uncommon experience for those who don’t subscribe to the national jingoism of January 26, but it’s one that sticks in my mind because of the comically confused look on his face.
There was a complete inability to understand how anyone could feel marginalised by this date, and a damning ignorance of the deep pain and disgust felt by many, even by a growing section of non-Indigenous Australia.
Whilst it is still a minority, there is a building chorus that agrees we should not celebrate a date that for generations of Aboriginal people has been one of mourning.
Blackfellas have mourned January 26th for decades because the arrival of the First Fleet not only announced the invasion of the British, but also heralded the massacres of entire tribes, poisoned waterholes and flour sacks, stolen children and stolen land, the dispossession of thousands of Aboriginal people onto missions and reserves, the deaths in custodies, the rising incarceration of men, women and children, and the attempted destruction of an ancient culture and the endangered languages.
If Aboriginal people are to be included in ‘Australia Day celebrations’ why is this unpleasant history washed away by a sickening sea of jingoism encased in cheap Reject Store trinkets?
The refusal to even consider starting a national conversation about changing the date, as suggested by former Australian of the Year Mick Dodson, was met with aversion by the public, who acted like whinging children threatened with the possibility of one less public holiday.
But the refusal to open up a dialogue about changing the date shows Australians would much rather stay stunted in this phase than progress towards puberty.
An example of just how far we have to go in our race relations can be seen in the year endured by Aboriginal footballer Adam Goodes as Australian of the Year.
Despite being a member of a league worshipped as religion in many states of this country, Goodes has had to field a barrage of criticism whenever he dares state a truth about the current situation for Aboriginal Australia.
It was only last November when Goodes drew an angry response from 3AW’s Neil Mitchell for mentioning Australia’s atrocious history of racism on British Radio.
Goodes’ comments were in no way radical. In fact, they were optimistic about the ability of Australians to change, stating he felt education about Australia’s black history would help Australia move forward.
But any mature conversation about Goodes’ comments was completely pushed off the table by Mitchell, who said he was “sick” of the “continued sniping”.
“Goodes seems not to like Australia. He’s trying to change the country. Yes parts of our history are not decent but we have moved on from that”.
The fact is, of course, we haven’t moved on, and to begin to even suggest this to Aboriginal nations across the country is as offensive as the day itself.
How can you move on without justice? How can you heal when every year on January 26th your history is deemed unimportant and marginal?
The weight of history burdens every Aboriginal community, because the denial of this past creates a false diagnosis of the deep pain felt across the breadth of Aboriginal Australia.
It misleads Australians about the intergenerational trauma that has left many blackfellas mired in bad statistics. If you don’t have the correct diagnosis, how can you begin to medicate and heal?
How can you expect black and white Australia to unite when the power is overwhelmingly weighted on one side? You can’t wash away a black history so easily.
Australia Day is, and always will be, a day of shame, regardless of the marketing and press releases pumped out by the National Australia Day Council.
It does nothing to represent ‘fairness’. Instead it represents compounding pain and the inequalities that stem from a history that is continually denied.
To celebrate this denial means you are complicit in the current suffering of Aboriginal Australia. And to not even consider a conversation about changing this date means Australia still has a lot of growing up to do.
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