Well it’s Australia Day again, and along with the Aussie flag eskys, thongs and towels, comes the controversy about the date and what that date represents to the indigenous population of Australia. I keep reading rabid posts on social media from people telling the nation’s first people to “Get over it,” and I can no longer sit back and ignore that kind of lack of understanding. There are lot’s of arguments that can be used, but I’d like to share with you my own understanding of the issue, limited as it is by my whitefella privilege.
Imagine for a moment that you’re sitting in your family home one day and there’s a home invasion. People burst through your door, kill most of your family and throw you out of your home and off your land. You try to fight back but they are better armed than you and so you find yourself dispossessed, a virtual foreigner in your own land. Also, all your relatives and friends suffer the same fate.
Over time, laws are written to say you never lived there and that you don’t count as a human being with basic human rights. You are stripped of any right to speak up or have a voice in how you are treated or to demand justice.
Then, one day the people who took your homes and murdered your family and friends say, “You know what? We never had a housewarming party.” All those people and their children think this is a great idea and they all celebrate the homes they stole, but for the next few decades they mark the occasion on different dates*. It’s such a success they decide to hold these housewarming parties every year. This goes on for years and years until several generations later, someone says, “Hey why don’t we all hold these housewarming parties on the same day? And let’s celebrate them on the date we moved in.”**
So now, every year on that day, the descendants of the people who took your homes and murdered your families and friends, hold a party.
Would it tick you off? Would you cry out at the injustice? Could you, “Just get over it”? Now to add a little perspective, this wasn’t just your family home and land, this was the place were your ancestors since time immemorial had lived. The murder didn’t only happen on that date, but continued for decades and decades, as more of your relatives were poisoned, shot and imprisoned. Add to that the fact, your relatives and you yourself are still imprisoned at a much higher rate than your oppressors. On top of that, it was only recently they even acknowledged begrudgingly that, yes, you did used to live there.
Tell me. Could you just get over it?
Notes for those who claim it’s a long standing Australian tradition and it would be “unAustralian” to change the date.
* The name Australia Day wasn’t universally accepted until 1935
** It wasn’t until 1994 that the date 26th of January was declared a national public holiday.