Post-referendum Invasion Day: Let’s not bring back #changethedate

25 Jan 2024
Post-referendum Invasion Day: Let’s not bring back #changethedate

In the lead up to Invasion Day this year I’m seeing renewed energy towards keeping/changing the date amongst many non-Indigenous people online.

My guess is that the voice referendum has brought new people to the conversation, on both sides, and many of these people don’t know much about what has happened in the past with these conversations. 

I’m seeing various supporters of keeping the date misappropriate on our most significant protest cries by tweeting that it ‘always was and always will be January 26th’, and I’m seeing supporters of change the date oversimplify Indigenous opposition to the day by suggesting that reconciliation can be achieved simply by moving this celebration of all things colonial to another date. 

And I get it, they’re new. 

Indigenous opposition to the celebration of January 26th is not new.

Our opposition to January 26  is much older than this same day being labelled ‘Australia Day’ across the nation (1935) and far older than it being declared a public holiday (1994). 

I have written extensively on the issue, too much one might argue, 

It has long been widely understood, because it is so obvious, that this date is not one many Indigenous people would want to celebrate. 

We were not even invited to participate in the earlier celebrations –  ‘and remind them that we have robbed them?’ was how Henry Parkes responded to the suggestion of Aboriginal participation in the centennial in 1888. 

At the sesquicentennial, in 1938, there was Aboriginal participation in a First Fleet reenactment but the participation was not by invitation but by force, not unlike the original. 

Also in 1938, the day was declared a Day of Mourning by Aboriginal protesters meeting in Sydney. 

They were not simply protesting the date of Australia Day though. 

They were protesting the dream of creating a white nationalist ethnostate at the expense of Indigenous peoples that is the Australian experiment in all its glory.

And this is what people have been protesting, in one way or another, ever since. Both the dream, and the expense. 

By the bicentennial in 1988, it was known by many as Invasion Day.

In the 1990s some started calling it Survival Day to focus not just on the date of Invasion but to celebrate the fact that we continue to survive and to fight against colonialism.

Like most Indigenous-led protests throughout history, Indigenous protest surrounding January 26h has long been misconstrued and misrepresented by media pundits and politicians alike. This was done either by denying the truth of our history, by cherry-picking and misrepresenting comments or chants made at  protests, by framing everything we did as ‘divisive’, and all of the other disingenuous tactics that those in power use to dismiss or undermine those who seek to speak truth to power. 

It was not until the rise of social media, particularly Twitter, that the issue became such a central focus within the national discourse each year. The strong Indigenous presence online meant that it was not so easy to dismiss or misrepresent Indigenous views, not that they didn’t try (and are still trying). 

I’d say this peaked online between 2015 – 2019. 

Many of us who were online in that period initially pushed the hashtag #changethedate, I supported this until I realised just how many non-Indigenous people failed to recognise that moving the celebration of colonialism to another date would not achieve the post-racial Utopia they were imagining. Calls to find a new date to hold the same celebration became louder and louder, often drowning out conversations about how to address our history, acknowledge our present and build a better future – admittedly the May 8 (maaate) campaign was pretty funny, but it too missed the point. Myself, along with many others, began to distance ourselves from what felt like a non-Indigenous hijacking of the #changethedate conversation. 

In 2019, IndigenousX led a charge for a swapping #changethedate with #changetheneation. This helped to move #changethedate from being the top anti-Australia Day tag and made space for #InvasionDay to reclaim its rightful place at the top of the pile. (Back when twitter didn’t suck so much it actually showed us the trending data to confirm this). 

Then Covid happened in 2020 and the world went mad and many of us left twitter after it got bought out by Musk last year and then the referendum failed and Israel ramped up its 75 year occupation of Palestine into a full-blown genocide and now here we are, on the door of Invasion Day 2024. 

For those of you who just got here post-referendum, I invite you to maybe take a minute to catch up with some of this history before reviving the #changethedate campaign.

And don’t get me wrong, it’s ok not to know the things you don’t know. 

As Malcolm X told us, “Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.”

So, get fired up. Talk about the history of Australia and why the 26th of January is a terrible choice for a national day, but please don’t get caught up in the logical fallacy that changing the date will fix what’s wrong with this country. Put your energy into talking about actual solutions to these problems. 

Support Indigenous-led campaigns. 

Amplify Indigenous voices.

Donate to Indigenous causes.

Speak truth to power.

Educate yourself.

Stand in solidarity with Palestine and all other victims of colonialism. 

Keep doing these things and Australia Day will die a natural death, as it should have long ago. 

If we manage to change Australia for the better, then there will continue to be less and less people who want to celebrate the date.

There will be less people who feel a need for an artificial and unhealthy boost of nationalism on any day, regardless of the date. 

There will be fewer local councils choosing to hold citizenship ceremonies on that day as a blatant act of patriotic propaganda designed to bolster support for January 26th amongst multicultural communities. 

There will be less businesses who are able to exploit jingoism for profit or who see more value in sitting out the issue altogether.

Less clicks for right-wing media who benefit from stirring up racism and hatred. 

Less votes for politicians who would hide their contempt behind flags and anthems and three-word slogans. 

But whatever you call it, Indigenous opposition to the idea of celebrating Australia on that day is older than the day itself. It is almost as old as Indigenous opposition to Australia itself – a white nationalist ethnostate built on the lies of ‘terra nullius’, of ‘a fair go’, and of a ‘nation settled in peace, not war’. Indigenous resistance is  365 day a year issue, but there are several significant days, such as Invasion Day, that will always be regarded as important. 

January 26 is a day we fight for our history, our present, and our future. 

For others it’s a day where they do their best to deny our past, ignore our present, indoctrinate new migrants, and get drunk instead of thinking about the future. 

There are other days like this that have experienced a similar fate too. 

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was hijacked and turned into Harmony Day.  It was a strategic effort to hijack a day about reflecting on the past, being honest about the present and committing ourselves to continuing the work of eradicating racial discrimination and replacing all of that with an unthinking celebration of ‘racial harmony’. 

Similarly, January 26th offers all of the same opportunities for reflection, honest conversations, and strategic action to build a better future. But instead there’s a concerted effort to make it about buying red, white and blue (or green and gold) trinkets, getting drunk and teaching our children that “if you don’t sing the special song the magic sky cloth won’t freedom”.

We’d all be better off if we just abolished Australia Day (along with all the ethnonationalism that it represents) rather than looking for a new date to hold it on.

But even if we do that, it won’t automatically lead to the actual outcomes we need. 

Those outcomes won’t be achieved via an apology, morning teas, bridge walks, flying flags or making acknowledgements, referendums, or changing the date of a national holiday. 

And I know some people think we should do these things because ‘they can’t hurt’, and I agree some of the above things can be good or neutral, but the problem comes when people confuse activities for outcomes. 

Do the other things if you want, I do some of them myself, just don’t get confused in thinking they are gonna help change outcomes. 

There is no shortcut to justice and we should stop looking for one.

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