Indigenous Australia Opinion

Invasion Day debate: #ChangeTheDate — but not right now: FLASHBACK 2017

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(Image via @JohnDory49)

For those who enjoy celebrating Australia Day on the day that marks Indigenous dispossession, Natalie Cromb says: enjoy your day, but know change is coming.

This article from 2017 highlights the disregard for the plight of Indigenous Australians by those who celebrate the “lucky country” on 26 January.

NOTWITHSTANDING Senator James McGrath’s eloquent and sympathetic response to calls to #ChangetheDate of Australia Day (read: Invasion Day), I am going to have to disagree with his verbose stance despite how loathe I am to take an alternate stance to such an intellectual.

I would like to #ChangetheDate — but not right now. 

I am in solidarity with all of the mob who are calling for the Government to change the date and am in support of their joint initiatives, where non-Indigenous allies are also joining the cause. Unfortunately, however, it is too soon; this country is not mature enough and would not enact the substantive change needed for this to make any material difference in the lives of our grandparents, uncles, aunties, brothers, sisters and cousins.

To change the date now would be an act of symbolism.

I am a vocal advocate of progressing this nation and relations with Indigenous people through treaty. Treaty is the line in the sand where Australia can mature as a nation, and dispense with the denial that continues to dog relations and move towards a better future — one where there is a clear acknowledgement that Indigenous people are strong, smart and resilient.

A treaty would be the basis upon which the sovereign Indigenous people of Australia and the Government could negotiate the terms of rights to land, minerals and resources and the self-governing of communities. It would be a binding agreement that would have sanctions that would deter breaches of the terms of the treaty.

Treaty is essential because, 229 years after colonisation, we remain at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid. Even after 229 years, children are still being removed arbitrarily from Indigenous families, racism remains rife in society and none more so against Indigenous people. Even after 229 years, Indigenous people are still dying in custody and being subjected to cruel punishments, including water being switched off, communities being closed and being forced into work programs that provide less than the minimum wage. And, moreover, we still have to justify why 26 January is so damn upsetting to us.

Put simply, it is the day that life as it was known was destroyed. It represents the end of the Aboriginal harmonious co-existence with the land. It represents the onslaught of disease, massacres, murders, rapes, slavery and attempted genocide of our people.

And 26 January is the date where we are told, more than ever, to “get over it” and move on. Because Australia is a “great country” and we should be grateful that we are here. But, sorry, we can’t get over it and to move on means things are better now when they’re not — despite what the stupefying mainstream media tries to tell you.

Australia – 26 January – the land where we celebrate with nationalistic buffoonery with complete disregard for the Indigenous Australians' mourning. Even worse, it is the land where such mourning is not only an inconvenience but is downright offensive to the true blue Aussies who have made this “the lucky country”.

People celebrate this date when the land was invaded, after which Indigenous people were the subjects of forced and violent dispersals from their cultural lands. They were the victims of massacres and murders; rapes and retributory attacks to any resistance; there were genocidal policies based on pseudoscience of Indigenous inferiority; there were sinister attempts to murder countless Indigenous people when the introduced diseases weren’t killing enough of them to the White man’s liking and there was (and arguably remains) the pervasive mindset that Indigenous people were sub-human.

So to tell us to “get over it” is not going to cut it, especially because the prevailing circumstances of Indigenous people in Australia are worsening – not improving – and the divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is widening because of a determined lack of empathy on the part of non-Indigenous people.

Indigenous people are constantly counselled on how to approach issues with non-Indigenous people, there is no converse compromise and this is the essence of what it means to be Indigenous in Australia in 2017. We are constantly expected to not impose discomfort upon non-Indigenous Australians who are well entrenched in their privilege and denial.

White Australia doesn’t want to hear about “history” and they’re “sick of the guilt”, I am told frequently. Well, it is not just history — it continues. And if White Australia is sick of the guilt, White Australia needs to step up to effect change that ceases this continuation of it advancing at the expense of all others — especially the Indigenous people whose blood remains on the hands of the White man and in the soil we walk upon.

Governor Lachlan Macquarie's orders during the Colony of News South Wales'  1816 'War on Aboriginals' (Image via @JohnDory49)

Australia needs to awaken to the truth. Australia needs to understand privilege and responsibility. Australia needs to take the knife all the way out, stop denying its existence and then work toward healing.

Changing the date before we have a substantive treaty document to hold the Government to account and empower Indigenous people with control of their communities, law and justice and the future will silence us, and silence the reasons we abhor this date.

So, to those advocates for Australia Day and how it “includes us all and allows us to celebrate what a great country we live in”, enjoy your day and celebrate the Australia you think is the “lucky country”. 

Enjoy your ignorance, but know that change is coming — Black Australia is mobilising and a growing number of allies who are not Indigenous walk beside us. Do you want to be comfortably ignorant, or would you like to be on the right side of history?

Natalie Cromb is Indigenous affairs editor and a proud Gamilaraay woman.

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