“There is no way Indigenous people can celebrate Australia Day. And if white people knew their own history they wouldn’t celebrate it either.”
— Senator John Woodley (in office 1993 – 2001)
Genocide is what many aboriginal people of Australia call it – and that, indeed, appears to be a truth that grieves our native peoples. Yet, there are also so many Australians who love Australia Day for what it means to be Australian. Being Australian is apparently about giving everyone a fair go, but there are many in our society who feel they are not fairly done by – and not just in our Indigenous number.
How are we to approach Australia Day? For the Indigenous of Australia, January 26 is a celebration either of their survival or a mourning for the invasion that took place in 1788.
Australians, we can be sure, can never feel adequately proud, nationalistically, until all Australians feel included, and reconciliation is the restitution necessary.
The Apology of 2008 was a significant little step, but actions need to match the words. We can be sure that the government is working hard, because an abused people will inevitably bring social problems. We should pray the government are engaging with the right people and doing what it can to set up whatever programs are created for success – the ultimate yardstick is our aboriginal folk are satisfied we are ‘fair dinkum’ (sincere, for non-Australians).
Before white ‘settlement’ in Australia, there were over 400 aboriginal people groups – each spoke different languages/dialects. There were also over 200 ‘nations’ or peoples or mobs within the continent. Imagine a culture several times bigger than Europe – that’s what Australia was before white people came. There is so much in Aboriginal culture we are carelessly and irreverently ignorant of – because we simply don’t know.
Our opportunity as Australians is to embrace what everyone feels on the national day. There is good reason why our Indigenous feel robbed and betrayed. Their affinity to their ancestors – given their communal culture – is even more important to them than ours is to us. Their ancestors were murdered, incarcerated, stolen, oppressed, and undignified at almost every turn.
There have been may whitefellas who have sought to work with, understand, and serve our Indigenous – but far too few.
If we are to be ‘Australian’ we will begin to listen to those who call Australia Day “Invasion Day.” We will listen with the intent of learning from those who can only reasonably mourn.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.