On Saturday 26th January 1788 an advance force of Royal Marines and other naval personnel from the United Kingdom of Great Britain invaded the country of the Eora (Cadigal) People. A prison was established at Cadi and within eighty years much of the continent to which “Sydney Cove” belongs had been stolen and settled by further waves of British people and their invited guests.
Is this what “Australia Day” celebrates?
As an Australian of English and convict descent I hope for more from my national day. I feel shame for the treatment of our land’s first people: appalled by the near genocide of the Palawah people of Trowenna, disgusted by the mass murder by the gun/fire/rope/knife/club/sneeze and the poisoned blanket/grain/waterhole, and dismayed by the conditions endured by some of the Koori, Palawah, Lia Pootah, Yolngu, Anagu, and Nunga people with whom I have lived and worked. Reconciliation is necessary; indeed conciliation might be a better word (since there never was a right relationship to break in many places). Let us indeed finish what we started, but not just because Marcia Hines told us to on the tele.
Yet still I hope for more, because I see “Australia Day” akin to “Christmas Day”.
Jesus was not born on December 25th, yet on that day the miracle of Emmanuel is celebrated by billions of people across the world. Many in Australia worship the child, even if only for a dew-eyed moment amongst the tinsel and the paper, when “the true meaning” is referenced. A man who is named otherwise by those who stub a toe or hammer a thumb is remembered on that one day. Jesus was not born so that the Eora would decorate fir trees on Saturnalia, and no-one considers it so.
Australia was not founded on Australia Day, Sydney was. It is a fact of history than on one January evening a foreign flag was planted and a foreign king was toasted as a gaol was established while the indigenous population watched from close by. Australia Day does not celebrate the dispossession of the Eora and the “manly” Dhuwal Peoples, although that particular anniversary is used.
Australia Day is more about 01/01/1901 and 25/04/1915 than about 26/01/1788. Australia Day celebrates the mud armies of Brisbane, and the waist-deep people of Victoria who say “yeah it’s tough mate but Kwoinslan has it worse.” It celebrates the brave people of Christmas Island who risked their lives to save “illegal immigrants” and then wept at their partial lack of success. It celebrates brave diggers who charge Taliban machine-gunners in defence of their mates because “greater love has no man”. It celebrates lonely teenagers facing huge white waves in tiny pink boats. It celebrates people who leave lucrative private sector jobs so as to devote their time and talents to compassionate acts of charity.
And Australia Day is Survival Day. You came, you stole, you conquered. You did not wipe us out.
Australia Day is a date chosen from our pagan past to celebrate our national, holistic future.
It is a day for black arm bands, but also those in green and gold. It is a day for flags bearing the emblems of an empire past, a pugilistic marsupial, and a golden sun above a dark skinned people proud upon a red soil.
In courage, let us all combine to pray and work towards the advance of our fair Australia. (May she and we never be unfair again.)