Australia day is on the 26thof January. Celebrations will take place all over the nation, celebrating Australia, a great nation of multiculturalism and diversity. Ceremonies will pay tribute to a progressive nation (or a progressively regressive nation), where people from all cultural backgrounds are allowed to live and express themselves freely. A just nation that honours and responds to the call of the marginalised and the oppressed.
While all those celebrations will take place and, subsequently, find a space on national television outlets and major newspapers, several marches in solidarity with the First Nations’ people will also be held throughout several Australian cities. These marches will pay tribute to a slightly different Australian history. They will commemorate Invasion Day/Survival Day and pay tribute to those who fought for the plight of the Aboriginal people.
Australia day marks the date of the arrival of the First Fleet to Australia on the 26thof January 1788. Below are a couple of statistics as to what happened to the country’s first nations people after the white man appeared on Australia’s shores:
Population decline:Conservative population estimates indicate an 80% decline in the Aboriginal population of Australia from the arrival of England (1788) to a census conducted in the 1920s. Other estimation studies indicate up to a 96% decline.
Causes of death:John Harris states that the main causes of the rapid decline of the Aboriginal population are ‘massacre, sexual abuse, and disease’. All of these causes of death were brought onto the native peoples by European settlers.
Uncle Ken Canning, Indigenous elder, long time activist in the Indigenous Social Justice Associationand annual speaker at the Invasion day/Survival day rally, explained during the 2016 rally that Australia day “is not about celebration” for the Aboriginal community but “about mourning” and that “war was declared” on the nation (and it’s indigenous inhabitants) 228 (now 232) years ago. He and other speakers claimed that a more appropriate date for Australia day would be on the day Australia became independent from Britain, which was on the first of January of 1901.
In addition to recounting a history rife with pain and suffering, it was highlighted that following on from the apology that was made by the Rudd government in 2008, the living conditions of indigenous Australians had not improved all that much.
Although rarely given time in media outlets, evidence of the injustice that still plagues the Aboriginal community to this day does not require a lot of research. A quick look through the Australian Bureau of Statistics website shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are “one of the most disadvantaged groups in Australia”. According to the Human rights watch 2015 world report, indigenous Australians comprise 27% of the country’s prison population, although they make up 3% of the country’s population overall. The report also stated that the life expectancy of indigenous Australians is estimated to be 10-12 years less than that of non-indigenous Australians. These statistics indicate that the indigenous community is vulnerable to treatable diseases and have less access to education and employment, which ensures that the cycle of poverty keeps on repeating.
In addition to this, the number of deaths of indigenous Australians in custody is increasing. A 2019 report by the Guardian indicated that between 1991 and August 2018, 407 Indigenous Australians had died in custody – which on average indicates that 15 people die in custody in a year (it is not necessarily the case).Seventeen people died in custody between August 2018 and August of 2019.
Photo taken during Sydney (Redfern to Town Hall) Invasion Day/Survival day rally on the 26thof January 2016
So, the question remains, why do we celebrate Australia day when the indigenous people of this country have not yet received acknowledgment, let alone compensation, for their suffering or the injustices committed against them (we celebrate the day that marks the beginning of the demise of their culture and massacre of their people andexpect them to celebrate with us)? Why do we casually explain that Australia day marks the date that the British arrived at Australian shores but make a point to say that Australia day is all about celebrating diversity and progress (progressive regression)? Why do we parade around a façade of freedom, equality and justice and ignore the fact that each year on Australia day there are thousands of people who take to the streets to voice their distaste at the timing and meaning of the day? Why are we so behind in coming to terms with our colonial history?
Perhaps it is time to contemplate the real meaning of Australia Day and the current date we celebrate it on. Maybe it is time to consider the requests the indigenous community has been making for years. Hopefully by this time next year, the date and meaning of Australia day would have changed. Maybe it will incorporate the interests and sensibilities of the First Nations of this country. Perhaps this time next year Australia will be different.
http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/2f762f95845417aeca25706c00834efa/2d3206f4f87ba3a7ca2570ec000e2159!OpenDocument, they referenced (Australian Bureau of Statistics 1994, Year Book Australia, 1994, No. 76, cat. no. 1301.0, ABS, Canberra)