OPINION: Every year, Australia celebrates the slaughter of the continent’s First Peoples. Liam McLoughlin provides some background, and a guide to the best places to completely ignore the historical realities of our past. Plus five events that provide a more accurate perspective.
John Pilger calls it “one of the saddest days in human history”.
On the 26th January 1788, The First Fleet, led by Captain Arthur Phillip and including 1,000 officials, marines, dependents and convicts, landed in Botany Bay. The British declared Australia terra nullius, or land belonging to no-one, and dispossessed hundreds of thousands of Indigenous Australians.
Within three years of invasion, the introduction of small pox by the British had decimated 50-90 per cent of the Aboriginal population of Sydney.
While “settlement” was the preferred term of historical textbooks of 1900-1970 and contemporary politicians, the terms “invasion”, “occupation” and “warfare” were widely used in letters, diary entries, and newspaper articles of the 19th century.
The 1788 invasion began a 150-year war with Aboriginal people. During this war the invaders were guilty of many massacres.
In 1804, 50 Indigenous people were murdered at Risdon Cove in Tasmania in response to Aboriginal resistance.
In January 1838, 60-70 Aboriginal people were killed at Vinegar hill in north central NSW, and in July of the same year in Myall Creek, NSW, 28 Aboriginal men, women, and children were slaughtered. While eventually seven stockmen were hanged for murder, the public outcry against this decision made later prosecutions less likely.
As late as 1928, between 31 and 110 Indigenous men, women and children were killed near Coniston, NT, in response to the death of a dingo hunter.
In Tasmania, between 1824 and 1831, the Aboriginal population dropped from 1,500 to 350. For many historians who have studied the statements and actions of the Tasmanian authorities, this was a clear-cut case of genocide.
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Through violence and disease the Aboriginal population was reduced from about 750,000 in 1788 to about 60,000 in 1920.
Here are the top five most fun ways Aussies can mourn the day which set off this concatenation of atrocities:
- Australia Day Harbour Parade: “Celebrate with some of Sydney’s most iconic vessels parading around the harbour in a dazzling display of national spirit.”
- Cruising Concerts Featuring The Enormous Horns And Junkyard Beats: “The Enormous Horns will be getting the festivities underway with their eight piece all singing and all dancing party band while Junkyard Beats will be creating rhythms from around the globe by using everything from plastic buckets, kitchen utensils and angle grinders.”
- Australia Day Fireworks at Victoria Harbour: “Of course, the spectacular Australia Day fireworks display at 9.45 pm is what everyone is sticking around for with almost two tonnes of fireworks lighting up the Docklands skyline!”
- Cockroach Races At Storybridge Hotel: “It’s Brisbane’s quirkiest Australia Day event and in 2016 the Annual Cockroach Races at Story Bridge Hotel celebrate 35 years! The fun-filled day includes great food stalls and cold drinks, live music, entertainment, prizes and more, as well as a 14-race program featuring the finest creepy-crawly athletes.”
- World Record Flag-Waving: “Join our attempt to beat the World Record on Australia Day at the City of Perth Skyworks for the most number of National Flags being waved at one time. Bring your own flag or collect one from our volunteers – and get waving!”
Alternatively you can actually show respect to the 3 per cent of Australians who are Indigenous at the following events:
- 2016 Invasion Day March, Sydney: “This call is for all who want to fight for sovereignty, treaty and social justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders rights as well as to unite across Australia to protest the British Colonial Invasion 228 years ago. This will also be to remember the actions of our Aboriginal and allied comrades in 1938, the black rights struggle of the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s, the 21st century as well as too many others before or since.”
- Yabun Festival 2016, Sydney: “Yabun Festival is the largest one day celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in the country. Held annually on 26th January upon the traditional lands of the Gadigal people at Victoria Park, Camperdown, the festival has a vibrant program of arts, dance, music and speakers. We invite all to come and celebrate and experience the oldest living culture on earth with us!”
- Survival Day 2016, South Australia: “January 26 is “Survival Day”, an important time when the community gathers to celebrate the resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. The day serves to acknowledge and reinforce the present and future of our cultures.”
- Invasion Day Rally 2016, Melbourne: “Assemble at Parliament House to protest the celebration of Australia Day and stand up for land rights, social justice and sovereignty for Indigenous Australians.”
- Invasion Day March 2016, Canberra: “Join us as we celebrate a surviving culture and walk with us in solidarity. This year will be a strong focus against the government’s recognise campaign. The only thing we need to recognise is the government’s continuation of a program of assimilation and cultural genocide.”
Until Australia Day becomes Treaty Day, January 26th is a terrible date for a party.