I was a teenager when the Mabo and Wik decisions were handed down in the 1990s. There was a growing movement aimed at achieving land rights and reconciliation for Aboriginal Australians. There was finally recognition that the land, now known as Australia, was already inhabited when the first fleet arrived and claimed it for the British Commonwealth.
I know I am in no way responsible for what occurred in 1788, or the generations of trauma, discrimination and disadvantage that followed. But I also know I want to be a part of trying to heal the wounds and finding a more equitable and united way forward.
I always felt uneasy on Australia Day. It was a day I felt signified the beginning of intergenerational trauma and dispossession of one of the oldest cultures on earth. Was it really appropriate to have a party?
To me it was a bit like celebrating Krystal Naucht or Nagasaki.
Certainly it is a day to be remembered, but with reflection rather than celebration.
The Fremantle Council felt that same unease about celebrating Australia Day as I did. But we are not alone. There is a growing national debate about these issues. It is a conversation our nation can have in a thoughtful and respectful manner.
The national youth broadcaster Triple J is considering changing the date they hold the annual “Hottest 100” event, out of respect. Aboriginal Australians of all walks of life including are speaking up about what Australia Day means to them. These are not hardcore lefties or people with political agendas, but ordinary Australians who feel disregarded and disrespected by the celebration of Australia Day.
This is echoed in the US where Indigenous Americans are voicing their hurt about Thanksgiving celebrations, which also originates from the invasion, colonization and persecution of their land and peoples.
With this in mind, Fremantle Council had three options.
- Continue business as usual: do not acknowledge the hurt that the day causes and ignore the opportunity for a progressive shift towards reconciliation.
- Change the nature of our Australia Day event: to a more somber affair that sought to address the hurt – more focus on survival and acknowledgment of the significance of the day.
- Hold a celebration of our wonderful, diverse community and contemporary Australian culture on a day that does not signify invasion and its aftermath.
We chose option three as a positive way forward for the whole community.
“One Day” will be an event where everyone can come together to celebrate our fantastic nation. This is not about denigrating our country or people, it is about being able to celebrate with pride, respect and joy.
Perhaps we can also have a mature conversation about how to heal past wounds, deal with intergenerational trauma and disadvantage and become a more united and proud nation.
Plans are evolving for exactly what will take place on January 28. Consultation with community, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal is underway. People and organisations from across the state are getting in touch wanting to be part of the event and the movement that is emerging. I am very pleased to be a part of it, and I hope you will be too.