Fremantle To Cooktown: If You Thought Australia Day Was Offensive, You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

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If this one-minute video doesn’t change your view that it’s time to #changethedate… well, I guess we’ll keep trying.

Understanding why January 26 is such an offensive date to stage a national celebration is not particularly challenging. After all, drinking to the dispossession and slaughter of someone else is something only a vulgar, immature nation would do.

Over in the west, Fremantle Council has worked that out, announcing this week that annual Australia Day celebrations would be moved to January 28.

But on the other side of the country, in Cooktown in Far North Queensland, they appear to have a quite different view about celebrating all things invasion.

On the Queens Birthday long weekend, Cooktown stages a re-enactment of Captain Cook’s arrival in 1770, when, fresh from claiming the east coast of the continent for Britain, he and his crew limped into a small inlet to repair his ship, The Endeavour.

And every year, this happens…

The Aboriginal actors featured in the video are from the nearby community of Hopevale, one of the poorest and most disadvantaged towns in the country. They’re slipped a few bucks to participate (while the broader Aboriginal community overwhelmingly ignores the event).

And that audio that you hear – the thousands of delighted residents and visitors laughing and clapping as the ‘hapless natives scurry off into the bush’ – is real. We didn’t edit in a canned laughter track. It happens. Every. Single. Year.

Indeed, it’s one of the highlights of the four day annual ‘Discovery Festival’… because, you know, Captain Cook was the first to ‘discover’ Australia, despite the fact millions were already living here, and had done for at least 60,000 years… the oldest, continuing culture on earth.

Cooktown’s Discovery Festival website opens with this line: “A fully costumed re-enactment of the landing of Captain James Cook and his first meeting with the Guugu Yimithirr people is just part of the entertainment available on the June Long Weekend. Come join our celebrations all weekend throughout the town.”

Dispossession as entertainment. Only in Australia.

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The community of Cooktown is so focused on celebrating ‘all things whitewash’ that planning is already well underway for a 48-day festival (yes, you read that right, 48 days) in 2020, to mark 250 years since Cook came, saw and claimed.

You can let the community of Cooktown know what you think of their annual celebration here. This is their Facebook page here.

In a piece of lucky timing, New Matilda helped launch a beer brand (yes, you read that right too, a beer brand) called Sparkke last week. One of the cans is called, literally, ‘Change the date’. You can find out more about that here and support our rather bold Pozible crowdsourcing campaign here.

And if you want to know why there’s a growing movement to #changethedate of January 26, you can read about it here.

You can also join New Matilda’s official ‘Change the date’ Facebook page here.

Time to get started folks… this national embarrassment is not going to move itself. Please share this story with family and friends.

The author of this article, Chris Graham, tweets here. You can follow New Matilda on Twitter here. You can follow New Matilda on Facebook here.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.

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