One part of the country call it Australia Day, other parts of the country call it Invasion Day or Genocide Day. We all know the reason behind the term Invasion Day, but do we really consider it an invasion? It is afterall called a Settlement or Colony. When faced with this discussion I always ask the same question sadly it leads to the exact same answer I give. If England returned today would they call them Settlers or Invaders? Yet the date recorded in history as the date the invasion officially began is the same date used to celebrate the country, without any consideration to the history of what the act of invasion cost either side of the Frontier Wars?
To start with I want to make it known that I absolutely love my country and all the people in it, I would never dispute your right to call yourself an Australian born upon these shores or abroad! Especially since I myself come from a varied heritage technically having more Scottish than Aboriginal DNA running through my body and carrying the genes of the very European people responsible for the destruction of a way of life in our country, and the genes of those who faced invasion, slavery & genocide. Many of my country men, the First Nations of Australia as we often call ourselves feel the same way I do, we welcome the large cultural variety Australia has to offer. The multicultural community here is beautiful and is something I for one am proud of!
However, something I will never be proud of is the history and cultures that were destroyed within single lifetimes. The centuries of discrimination against us, the Europeans belief that the “blacks” could be bread out of the very country they had thrived on for thousands upon thousands of years. The lifetimes of oppression in the form of slavery and genocide that were enforced by the beliefs the colonial new comers expressed. Furthermore followed by the racism expressed by the Settlers and their descendants towards the indigenous population termed half-caste who were a direct result of their arrival. Racism that still exists to this day.
While much of the culture surrounding the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People has been lost in time many values and Dreamtime Stories remain to this day. I know many people look at the Dreamtime with skepticism and disbelief but I ask would you tell a Catholic Priest that Jesus did not rise from the dead? Probably not, you wouldn’t want to be seen as discriminating against a religion would you? Now think about the Dreamtime again with a religious point of view and tell me the values the First People hold dear are not as religious in nature as the Christian & Catholic beliefs, the Hindu, even the pure beliefs of the Muslim religion or any other for that matter.
Well, one of the Dreamtime beliefs taught to me by my ancestors is that if an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person's complete body is not buried on their land their soul will never join the Dreamtime, cursed to walk the earth travelling between their body parts for eternity. The Aboriginal People were a ‘spectacle’ to the European population and an interest of study for their scientists; this interest resulted in the theft of Aboriginal Peoples deceased body parts. Bodies were frequently exhumed shortly after burial or limbs were removed and whisked away before the funeral, all without consent from the grieving families. You can read more on this subject by searching Truganini and learning about the lady who is widely considered the ‘Last Full Blood Tasmanian’ and how her body was held for scientific research before being placed on display in the Tasmanian Museum; ignoring protests from her family for close to 100 years. Truganini passed away in May of 1876, and after the return of her body further skin and hair fragments were found and returned to her family in 2002, 130 years after her death. According to the beliefs of my ancestors her spirit was cursed to walked the earth for more than a century before finally being allowed to rest in her Dreaming.
In 1804 the European Settlers were given permission to fire on unarmed Aboriginal People during the conflicts that began only after Captain Arthur Phillip raised the Union Jack in Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788. All throughout Australian History the ‘incidents’ that resulted from the Settlers arrival in Sydney Cove on that fateful day, have for the most part been referred to as conflicts or incidents. The issue has always been sidestepped about the phrasing of the centuries that followed the raising of the Union Jack. Later in our history the name Frontier Wars was applied to the level of incidents appled, a new term one not owned in my primary school days. I once asked a teacher if the experiences of Australian's founding could be called a war and he replied with 'there has never been a war fought on Australian's soils' a line he told me with great pride. I had to point out that wasn't entirely true - Darwin was bombed by the Japanese, a part of history that teacher was unaware of.
To many of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People the date 26th January signifies the beginning of Australia’s First Land War, the beginning to the end of their way of life and the beginning of centuries of loss and hardship. Even today the view of many who live alongside the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People is that of a quiet disgust for who they have become, the view of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People has changed since the arrival of the ‘White Man’ but it has not improved.
From 1810, the Europeans established a policy of absorption, but upon realisation they could not wipe out the Indigenous population as easily as they imagined, the only 'useful' aspect the Europeans could envision was forced labour, the half-caste who were held in missions for their childhoods were trained to become a cheap workforce servicing the needs of the families they were hired by. Many of these ‘staff’ were underpaid for the most part, if they were paid at all. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population had to fight for their rights to be paid a wage for the services they conducted in a working environment. Many of the people from this generation of cheap labor never saw the promised money and today most have passed away never receiving the justice promised by the Australian Government and the people who employed them.
Political views of the Australian people and Government towards the Indigenous People were slow to change, before the 1960’s the Aboriginal People weren’t even termed to be Australian Citizens they fell under the Flora and Fauna Act not even considered people beside their fellow Australians. Then 31 years ago to this date, after the centuries of massacres, oppression and discrimination in 1988 Australia celebrated their great country in the first national holiday, on 26 January.
I ask you to imagine yourself in our shoes, imagine hearing these stories of Australian history as your own descendants experiences of being taken from their families and everything they had ever known. Imagine knowing the abuse your descendants suffered, knowing they were never even considered important enough to document, but records of sheep and cattle numbers from the times still exist to this day. Imagine knowing people not from this land were were given permission to shoot your descendants armed or not because a country far from these shores wanted a new land for a King who never even laid he's eyes upon these shores. And then imagine being asked to celebrate your beautiful country on a date they determined to be significant, a date that to you signifies remorse and sorrow. Foundation Day dubbed in 1804 to commemorate the raising of the Union Jack on January 26th 1788.
Imagine knowing that one of the worst acts of genocide against the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People happened on 26th January 1838! Colonial forces caught up to a group of Aboriginals who were fleeing in fear for their lives. They were caught at Wateerloo Creek just outside Moree in NSW, where official records state 40 people were killed. Historians have been able to confirm this site saw more than 300 men, women, children, and babies slaughtered in the creek bed. So when we say celebrating on this date means celebrating act of genocide - we are not lying, we refuse to celebrate an act of genocide that saw 300 men, women, children, and babies were slaughtered purely because they had dark coloured skin.
The celebrations take place for some but others like myself hold the same solemn reverence towards Invasion Day as I do for the ANZAC's and the great souls we commemorate on Remembrance Day. I do not celebrate, I can not. I instead have a day of quiet contempation, I hold my own personal minute of silence each and every year on 26 January, I cannot celebrate the day that signifies the beginning of the end for my peoples way of life even if I my DNA is considered more Scottish than Aboriginal - In my heart my Bäymaŋu (place of eternal belonging) is with that of my ancient culture belonging to the oldest living culture in the world.
Since Australia hides it’s dark historical truths so well, even the Prime Minister of Australia did not know his country nor his own Government’s history with the condemned acts of slavery. Pages of our history books are also not shy about hiding its truth about genocide either. Acts of genocide occur through out the ‘founding of this great country’ acts such as the acts of genocide discussed in this article. Our schools do not teach these things - but the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People remember these acts of genocide against our various peoples in our oral histories. The memories are passed on as is our way. The traumas that were felt by the generations who experienced the events that founded Australia have passed the traumas onto their descendants, not because we wished to share the pain, but because our way is to remember, like we remember the megafauna, oceans rising and even whales leaving the lands to become oceans dwelling mammals. The Colonial way is to forget the bad, which is why descendants of the First Fleet do not know the true history they have with these lands and it’s first people.
Now I ask you to tell me if you can at least understand why the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People are not happy to use 26 January in celebration of our country? And if you can understand where we are coming from can you support our protest about the date? Because we as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People also desire to celebrate our wonderful country, however to do so the date needs to be appropriate and politically correct for all the people of our beautiful land to celebrate together.
* I want to note that by using the term half-caste in this article I do not wish to offend anyone, I recognise to many that term is discriminatory and I have only used it so everyone who reads this post can understand the content I am referring to with regards to the historical sense. Please know I cannot stand the term myself, I find it to be as derogatory towards our people as the Americans find 'Nigger' to theirs.