I was born and live on Wurundjeri land.
That probably tells you everything you need to know about my views on Australia Day and whether we should change the date, but when did that ever stop me from writing a blog post?
I don’t actually know a lot about the history of this country before European settlers arrived (which was not, incidentally, on January 26, 1788. Though apparently that *was* the date the French arrived at Botany Bay, so we should probably be putting snails, not snags, on the barbie, if barbecues are our thing…).
I do know that when we did get here, there was supposed to be a treaty, but that didn’t happen.
I do know that there were hundreds of languages and tribes already here before us, many of which are now lost. I know that this ‘loss’ wasn’t just something that happened, oops, some languages and kin groups just fell out of our pockets and now we don’t know where they are any more. And for all the talk of ‘smoothing the pillow of a dying race’ – a pretty repellant notion in the first place – I know that even this is a euphemism for a much more violent process.
Bluntly, European settlers killed the Aboriginal tribes who were here before them. First with massacres (a hundred or more of them, if Wikipedia is to be believed) and hunting parties, then through the cultural violence of the Stolen Generations. And the violence is not over. Even now, deaths of Aboriginal people in custody are far higher than any other population group, and many of those who find themselves in custody in the first place are imprisoned for crimes such as unpaid fines – crimes that would not land a white person in jail. Indigenous Australians have worse health than those of us descended from Europeans, they have a shorter life expectancy, and they are stigmatised in ways that can have large consequences.
So yeah, I can see why our Aboriginal brothers and sisters don’t find a lot to celebrate about European settlement.
Look, history is a tricky thing. All history, really. Humans are really good at doing awful things to each other and that doesn’t seem to be changing very fast. (Humans are also really good at doing amazing, wonderful, helpful things for each other, but it’s less likely to be recorded as history, more’s the pity.) And sometimes those awful things have benefits for other people. I didn’t establish the doctrine of Terra Nullius, and I didn’t murder anyone, but the fact that other people did allowed Australia to become the country it is today, and that’s the country that welcomed my ancestors when their lives in Europe became untenable. I feel very lucky to have been born here – but my good luck was bought with the blood of the people who were here first.
I am not guilty of those murders, but I did benefit from them. I’m still benefiting from them.
And so yes, I think we should change the date. We should change the date because, quite simply, it’s the least we can do. Changing the date hurts no one, costs nothing, and it removes one hurt from the great pile of hurt that has been inflicted on our Indigenous brothers and sisters. It’s simple kindness, and it should be a no-brainer. Hell, even Jeff Kennett is saying the time has come to change the date, and he is not known for being a left-wing softie like me.
If that’s not a sign that the time has come, I don’t know what is.
(And while we’re at it, let’s work on closing the gap, finally getting that Treaty signed, and preventing deaths in custody and over-policing of Aboriginal communities. There is a lot of real, difficult, work to be done. But that’s no reason to skip the easy stuff…)
Incidentally, as of today, I’ve finally gotten around to adding an acknowledgment of country to this blog. This is something I should have thought of long ago, and the fact that I didn’t probably says some very unfortunate things about how much thought I tend to give indigenous issues. I shall endeavour to do better.
Things you can do
We can’t make our Prime Minister do anything, it seems. But there are a lot of ways to show support to our ATSI brothers and sisters. And it’s good to learn a bit more about our country’s history and the cultures that were here before we got here. So here are some interesting and hopefully useful links.
- Support the Uluru Statement from the Heart. You can find a summary of the convention here, and I encourage you to visit www.1voiceuluru.org to read the Statement and add your name in support.
- Donate to Free the People. This is a fundraiser Aboriginal women who have been jailed in Western Australia for being unable to pay fines. The goal is to pay these fines and get these women out of custody.
- Read about the National Aboriginal Controlled Health Organisation, because it’s pretty awesome. (I don’t think they take donations, but they are still good to know about)
- Download an App. I was just going to point you at the Welcome to Country App (which tells you about the land you are on and is pretty amazing if you are travelling around Australia), but then I found this article which links to 30+ Aboriginal apps, including storytelling apps, apps for learning Aboriginal languages, and apps about Aboriginal art and culture. Three guesses what I’m doing once I finish posting this article.
- Support an Indigenous-owned business. Supply Nation has a great database of all kinds of different businesses owned by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. (This is also a good one to take to work – I know some organisations would like to purchase more from ATSI-owned businesses, but may not know where to start.)