Australia’s special day of celebration, 26th January, the date Aussies have branded Australia Day. For others a date for mourning. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People have heavily objected to Australian Day since it’s introduction. For those who do not understand why; 26th January is the date the Union Jack (the Flag of Great Britain) was planted in the ground, and Australian soil was proclaimed British Territory after the arrival of the First Fleet. For the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People this date signifies the beginning of 200+ years of war, loss and hardships that can only be described as slavery by many who are still alive today
With all the discussions regarding racial discrimination lately, I have taken time to contemplate both sides of the story as they apply to me personally. Considering I am an Australian Aboriginal woman, and as much as I may wish to just close my heart to that “other side” of my ancestry; I should not! My hands were not responsible for what we know are atrocities. And although I grew up with family members who experienced some of these “atrocities”, my hands did not personally experience these either. Therefore I should not feel the guilt as I believe a child does not shoulder the errors of their forefathers. Yet I cannot escape the guilt or the other emotions that travel hand in hand with both sides of the Australian Story.
Because my eyes cannot close to these injustices my feelings are amplified in January. Amplified because it seems my fellow citizens show a lack of empathy towards the pain celebrating, and discussing Australia Day creates. Because we chose this date to celebrate a special patriotic connection to each other. While simultaneously failing each other in recognition of the sacrifices and benefits, both parties have and still do bring to the table.
Drawing my own conclusions from discussions flying around social media, I will admit some of my opinions have changed forever, but not in the way I would have imagined! If someone asked me last month what I thought about changing the date, I would have instantly replied with a blunt explanation backing the call. Yet I have been forced to admit my own prejudices and ignorance within my views; after the frenzied replies to online comments challenging my opinions regarding Australia Day. I was forced to admit I feel the same way about other dates of mourning within Australian History and culture; namely Remembrance Day and ANZAC Day.
After contemplating these challenges of my opinions it is hard not to draw parallels between ANZAC Day and Australia Day. Especially as it seems to be a popular reason to undermine the call for changing the date.
I am by no means trying to say ANZAC Day should not be celebrated. It is an extremely important date for me, as it rightfully is for many Australian and New Zealanders. Without our ANZAC heroes, If things had been different I might not be here or have the freedom today to even write this!
However the biggest difference I personally draw from these two days, is the reverence applied to ANZAC Day that brings us together. Australian’s memorialize the sorrow and celebrate the freedoms saved by one aspect of our history. Ceremonies are conducted in recognition to commemorate the Australian ANZACs; who fought and paid the ultimate sacrifice for a country they never saw again. The speeches that recognise not only the support but also the losses of our fellow ANZAC heroes. Including the acknowledgements of these same impacts on those who were on the opposite side of our lines.
While those same principles of reverence have not been applied to a date that left a deep scar in our history books. A date that is of similar significance to many Australians. The date that changed everything for both sides. The date that signifies the conception of the Australian society as we know it today; the same society the ANZACs fought so hard to protect. The same date that to many means invasion. The same date that to many means genocide.
This deep scar that has been talked and argued about for decades, without successful resolutions agreed upon. Remove either parties involved in the Australian Story and our country wouldn’t be the multicultural community it is today. Nor would our fellow citizens know and understand the sacrifices nor benefits, both our ancestors have contributed to this beautiful land.
Now I ask, if our ANZAC Heroes are so highly regarded and have ceremonies held in their honor still to this day; why are similar ceremonies not practiced around Australia to commemorate the founding of the country we all love today?
Recognising the fallen Aboriginal ancestors? Commemorating the fallen English Settlers, Convicts & Soldiers? Bringing an aspect of recognition? Resolving at least some of the feelings of both sides to our historical story?
Ceremonies from both sides of our proud cultures provide platforms for all Australian voices to be heard equally. Finally achieving political correctness, with what should be one of the most highly regarded and celebrated days in Australian culture.