Debunking: ‘There are more important things to talk about than Australia Day’

30 Jan 2019

Almost certainly there are more important issues effecting Indigenous people than the celebrations on January 26 but that is entirely not the point.

Almost certainly there are more important issues affecting Indigenous people than the celebrations on January 26 but that is entirely not the point.

It’s hard to imagine that the concept of a “Change the Date” was much of an issue before 1994 as before that year Australia Day was not consistently on January 26.  There was no need to protest to change the date because the date constantly changed.  However, Indigenous people have been protesting on January 26 every year since at least back in 1938 when an “Aboriginal Day of Mourning” was declared.

Australia Day protests have never been solely or even predominantly  about the insult of a country (the only UN country) that chooses to celebrate its national day on a date that commemorates the beginning of invasion and subsequent colonisation.  Rather, Indigenous people have always taken the opportunity provided the Invasion Day protests to draw attention to all the other issues we care about.

In 1938, the first official Day of Mourning, a Ten Point Plan was submitted to the Prime Minister calling for wide ranges changes to laws, policies and practices affecting Indigenous people. This began the Government’s habit of ignoring any requests and plans tendered by Indigenous people.

The famous 1988 Bicentennial protests were largely concerned with Treaty and self-determination. These requests were ignored as well.

Australia Day protestors now use the opportunity and exposure provided by the day to highlight and draw attention to every issue you could imagine, including deaths in custody, land rights, treaty, representation, Constitutional change (for and against), media, over policing, housing, water rights – the list is too long to even try to encapsulate them all but you get the gist.

This year – 2019, in Melbourne a theme of the protests was deaths in custody, and the over-policing that contributes to it. People who have lost family to police brutality spoke of their lost loved-ones, those who had been killed in custody and those who died when pursued by the police.  Pictures of those who have passed away lead the march.

It is also important for people to understand that just like non-Indigenous people we are capable of thinking of more than one thing at a time.  To think otherwise it to give us too little credit.  We do not sit around all year waiting for January, doing nothing all year for our people until the big march and the opportunity to shout and wave our placards.  Fighting against the after-effects of colonisation is an ongoing 365 day a year job, so much so that emotional fatigue is a common problem among Aboriginal activists and media people.

Nearly all Indigenous activists are working all year on multiple issues.  Many Indigenous people are fighting for the rights and the health of our people when the sort of people who celebrate Australia day don’t care.  It’s shocking how many people suddenly care about the “other issues” they ignore all year as soon as we want to talk about change the date, change the nation, or abolish Australia day. It’s also noteworthy to point out that they only care about these other issues enough to chastise others for not caring enough about them. They don’t care enough though to their considerable resources to explore these issues in any depth, to look a government responses, expert opinions, evidence, or what is and isn’t working. At best, when they get called out for racism, they might try to reinforce a binary stereotype of Indigenous voices and pit them against each other for entertainment, but that’s always only done as a last resort.

It’s almost as if they have other motivations.

Fighting against Jan 26 celebrations, which for most people uses up only a day of the year, does not lead to neglect on other issues felt important by Indigenous Australians.  Some people take longer than a day from their other activisms to fight against Australia Day, some people even spend a week, from the 52 weeks a year we all have available on the issue.

Scott Morrison, on the other hand, started the politics about “Australia Day” way back in September last year

Scott Morrison, on the other hand, started the politics about “Australia Day” way back in September last year when we can assume most Aboriginal Activists had more important things to worry about.  He has been banging on and on about it for months.

Both of us spent a little longer than average – a little longer than we wanted to – on Invasion Day this year. We did not just write about the day, though, we took the opportunity to educate the nearly half of Australians who don’t actually know what the day commemorates and tried to reset the narrative back on track for those who thought that changing the date is the magic bullet that can in and of itself create a nation where we can all celebrate together.

If Australia Day sells itself as a day where “we all come together to celebrate everything that is great about Australia” then it also creates an opportunity for others to come together to talk about everything that isn’t great about Australia, and the work that still needs to happen to become a country worthy of celebration.

Changing the date or eliminating the celebration entirely, stopping the celebration of the anniversary of the events on January 26 is an easy change, something that a government could implement in one fell swoop.  Why should we not fight for a simple change that might decrease the racism of the country, if only a little, and will almost certainly reduce somewhat our trauma. Why not change the country a little at a time?

But don’t think, even for a second, that we will stop marching for all the other issues if it happens. The history of civil rights in this country make it very clear that activism is a powerful tool for building support and affecting change.

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