The 26th of January is Australia Day and a national holiday. Various events happen all over Melbourne, but some of these recognise that this day raises important issues about Indigenous culture in Australia. Protests over colonialism have been ongoing since Europeans settled in Australia in 1788. On the 26th of January 1938, 150 years after the decimation of Indigenous people began, William Cooper (leader with the Australian Aboriginal League) together with Jack Patten and William Ferguson (the Aboriginal Progressive Association) declared the first “Day of Mourning,” a day recognising the history of colonial violence and dispossession. Survival Day events represent the resilience and contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who collectively make up the world’s oldest, continuous culture.
I attended the Share the Spirit festival, hosted by Songlines Music. This event has been running at the Treasury Garden since 2002. Together with similar events in Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and elsewhere, they are amongst the biggest Indigenous cultural events in Australia.
The most recent Australian Census of 2011 finds that 548,400 people identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin, representing 2.5% of our national population. This was an increase of 21% since the previous Census in 2006. New South Wales has the highest number of Indigenous Australians (32%), while the Northern Terriory has the highest rate of Indigenous people as a proportion of the population of any state (27%). Victoria has the smallest proportion (1%).
The median age of Indigenous Australians around the country is 21 years, in comparison to 38% for the non-Indigenous population. Conversely, Indigenous Australians have a considerably smaller proportion of older people aged over 65 years only 4% compared with 14% for the rest of the nation, representing the lack of access to adequate healthcare provided to our Indigenous population.
In 2013, Michael Mansell, lawyer and activist from the Palawa, Trawlwoolway and Pinterrairer people, noted that “Australia is the only country that relies on the arrival of Europeans on its shores as being so significant it should herald the official national day.”
In mid-January 2015, Former Australian of the year Dr Tom Calma, Aboriginal elder of the Kungarakan tribal group and a member of the Iwaidja tribal group, argued that Australia Day, also known as Survival Day amongst Indigenous Australians (to recognise the resilience of Indigenous Australians despite colonialism), is an opportunity to learn about Indigenous history, something that is not formally acknowledged as part of our national celebrations.
Pictured here is raper PHILLY, WembaWemba man based in Melbourne, and winner of last year’s Unearthed, who was amazing onstage at the Share the Spirit festival. He had many skilled MCs join him as guests.