Today marks Australia Day; celebrated as the official day of Australia. The holiday highlights the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British ships; this is when 11 ships left Portsmouth, England to found what would be the initial European settlement in Australia.
During this occasion, the flag of Great Britain was also raised at Sydney Cove. Presently, the celebration entails reflecting on the scenery of the nation, the diversity embedded in the land, ceremonies and awards welcoming new members to the community, and barbeques and fireworks; quite reminiscent of many ways independence holidays are spent throughout the world.
Still, for the aboriginals of Australia, Australia Day symbolizes a violent and painful past; it consists of a day where European conquerors invaded the land and caused torment. Some indigenous persons refer to January 26 as “Invasion Day” or “Survival Day”; they choose to use the occasion to celebrate their unique heritage by engaging in spear throwing competitions, playing games, eating meat pies, and having cook-offs. Some choose not to commence in any activities for the day at all.
Since January 26, 1938, the indigenous people of Australia have held rallies and protests to commemorate Survival Day. The Aborigines Progressive Association, based in New South Wales and founded by Jack Patten and William Ferguson in 1937 formulated the Day of Mourning protest with support from the Australian Aborigines League (AAL).
The march came underway because of boycotts and petitions sent to the Government of Australia and the Government of the United Kingdom which went unanswered. The lack of recognition or concern of the aforementioned signaled the aboriginals to be proactive and advocate for their concerns and rights.
Surprisingly, the rally was attended by aboriginals and non-aboriginal supporters. It was here that the manifesto “Aborigines Claim Citizens’ Rights” was distributed. The march also attracted a large number of individuals including leaders such as Pearl Gibbs and Margaret Tucker marking it as one of the first mass civil rights events.
Others choose to integrate the day with recognition of the pain yet not framing the day with just the negative aspects of British settlement. One case in point would be the Woggan-ma-gule ceremony marked in Sydney, which credits the past and jubilates in the present.
Some have advocated that Australian Day is moved to an alternative day. ABC Far North reports that Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire Council Mayor Wayne Butcher said his far north Queensland community would like to focus on issues that directly affect them. He said: “We could better spend our energy, time and money on the issues facing us on a daily basis. [Now we are] seeing local government in Melbourne and Victoria talking about finding a date we can all agree upon. It’s a discussion worth having but it’s going to take a while to get a resolution.”
The residents of Palm Island in Queensland also share the sentiments expressed above. Mayor Alf Lacey noted: “The current date doesn’t represent all of us. Palm Island is predominately an Indigenous community and it doesn’t resonate well with us. There’s commentary about Sorry Day. It’s about the destruction of children, being taken from their land and their communities, so we should not compare it with a change of date for Australia Day,” he goes on to point out: “A change of date won’t change the plight of Indigenous Australians but it will go a long way in terms of showing Australia is a mature country and that we respect the rights of everyone.”
What is a day of joy for one, can mean agonizing memories for another. Let’s not forget the plight of our brothers and sisters – worldwide.