Today is a painful day for Indigenous Australians; the 26 January is a date commemorating the day British ships (”the First Fleet”) arrived on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands. It is a day that marks the decimation of First Australians; the dispossession of their land; the removal of children to be raised in Missions and in White foster homes with no ties or knowledge of their culture (“the Stolen Generation”); amongst many other human rights crimes. This history impacts Indigenous life chances in the present-day.
Australia Day was only observed by all states and territories from 1935 and it was relatively recently that it was made a national holiday in 1994. Indigenous Australians have been protesting this date since 1938, on the first ever Day of Mourning, 150 years after colonialism. Since then, Indigenous Australians have also held both Invasion Day and Survival Day events to continue resistance against colonialist, patriarchal views of what it means to be Australian.
Join me through three case studies about the problems arising from Australia Day celebrations. First, I analyse a national advertisement that has been lauded as well as critiqued for its depiction of colonial arrivals. Second, I discuss a funding campaign to reverse the removal of Australia Day billboards featuring two Muslim girls. Third, I reflect on sociology’s role in the change the date protests, given the colonial origins of our discipline.
These three case studies will allow us to think about the limits of mainstream feminism and the gaps in sociological practices. I end with advice about how we might contribute to the change the date protests.
Please note that in this post, I use the phrase Australia Day to contextualise recent national debates about the celebration held on the 26 January. This phrase is hurtful to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and I use it only in context of discussing its colonial origins.
Tomorrow is a painful day for Indigenous Australians; the 26 January is a date commemorating the day British ships arrived on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands and decimated First Australians. Many Australians recognise that a date celebrating all that is great about this nation should not be held on this date that marks genocide, rape and dispossession, a history that impacts Indigenous life chances in the present-day.
Australia Day was only observed by all states and territories from 1935 and it was relatively recently that it was made a national holiday in 1994. Indigenous Australians have been protesting this date since 1938, on the first ever Day of Mourning! Since then, Indigenous Australians have also held both Invasion Day and Survival Day events to continue resistance against colonialist, patriarchal views of what it means to be Australian.
We can — and must — celebrate being Australian on a day that is less divisive and hurtful. This year, Fremantle council in Western Australia has changed the date to the 28 January in consultation with Indigenous elders and community members; the rest of the nation must follow this example.
Both the protest and festival are family-friendly events. Bring sunscreen, water and food as it’ll be hot!
Around 10,000 people marched in Sydney for the Women’s March. I was just one among many people concerned about social justice. I saw signs that read: “Women’s rights are human rights.” Well, Indigenous rights are human rights and Indigenous rights are a feminist issue! Intersectionality means showing up for all women, and recognising how racism impacts on gender equality.
I hope that the same 10,000 people who marched on the 21st will also march on the 26th of January. If you are able, join the march to support the traditional owners of this country. March because Indigenous Australians have always fought for feminist causes, human rights and the environment. It is only through Indigenous leadership that we can make Australia a better and truly inclusive nation.
See you there! I will tweet from @OtherSociology for those who can’t make it.
[Image: Symbol for fire in red against a yellow sun and black background, the colours of the Aboriginal Flag. Text reads: “Calling all sovereign peoples and supporters to stand with us on Invasion Day 27 January 2017. Keep the fire burning.”] Image: FIRE.
Australia Day: Meat, Racism and Re-Imagining Colonialism
What happens when White advertisers imagine multiculturalism? Every year, the Meat and Livestock Association releases a TV campaign promoting eating meat (specifically lamb) on Australia Day, which is currently held nationally* on 26 January. The campaign always takes a “provocative” and “comical” approach, usually promoting the idea that not eating meat is “un-Australian” (this is a racist slur used on migrants in every other context). In the last two years, the ads have made light of Australia’s colonial history. This is even more egregious because Indigenous Australians have been campaigning to change the date of Australia Day, which marks the invasion of Indigenous lands.
The latest ad shows Indigenous Australians welcoming the “First Fleet” of British officers with broad smiles. In reality, Indigenous Australians told them to leave, the British declared Australia “terra nullius” (no one’s land) and Indigenous people were promptly decimated.
The ad then shows ship after ship bringing in different waves of migrants. A prominent Chinese-Malaysian artist and chef, Poh Ling Yeow, says, “Aren’t we all boat people?” This is equally problematic given that the first law to be passed after Federation in 1901 was the White Australia policy that officially excluded people of colour from migrating (with only some groups allowed in as cheap labour). Our refugee policies remained stringent until the 1940s during WWII, and South East Asian refugees (so-called “boat people”) endured long-term hostility from the mid-to-late 1970s onwards. Moreover, since 2001, Australia has sustained its most inhumane immigration policies on record, by locking up asylum seekers indefinitely in offshore detention.
The ad ends with “the float people,” a play on the Mardi Gras parade. While LGBTQIA inclusion would be welcome in any other context, in this setting they are another minority group seen partying and oblivious to colonial invasion. This is a time when LGBTQIA Indigenous Australians face the greatest prejudice of all groups, and gay marriage remains unrecognised by the law.
The message of “we’re all different” is something we need to promote as a nation, but not in this misguided way, and not for this cause.
“The idea that we have a national ad campaign aimed at telling a version of Australian history where each new group that arrives in Australia simply ‘joins the party’ is simply something I just can’t swallow… Maybe I’d have been a bit kinder to this latest attempt if it was a standalone, and not just the next chapter of a series I already don’t like, written for an company I already don’t like, tied to a day that I do not like… Just change the damn date already."
Last year’s lamb ad in the lead up to the 26 January was based on a mock military campaign to "rescue” Australians from other countries. It was called “Operation Boomerang,” once again appropriating Indigenous culture for laughs, and using a theme of invasion.
While the latest ad appears to be celebrating Australia’s diversity, it succeeds only in deflecting racism and erasing the long history of activism by Indigenous Australians, who have officially campaigned since 1938 to change the date and meaning of this divisive day.
It is fine to have fun and celebrate being Australian. Let’s not do it at the expense of true inclusion of Indigenous Australians.
Lend your voice to #ChangeTheDate on Tumblr and Twitter.
*The city of Freemantle in Western Australia has changed Australia Day this year to 28 December to be more inclusive. The city was promptly banned by the federal government from hosting Australia Day citizenship celebrations, which are held in conjunction with Australia Day. As you can see, the date, the ads and the public discourses surrounding Australia Day are needlessly exclusive, racist and profoundly political.
[Video: “Celebrate Australia Day with a Lamb BBQ”. Photo: screen shot from the ad showing three Indigenous people on a beach with raised eyebrows.]
In my home the 26th of January has always been a sore spot.
We do not celebrate Australia Day.
We do not celebrate the day where our ancestors stood on the shore of the land that was their home yelling “Warra Warra” at the tall ships coming in.
We do not celebrate genocide.
“The refusal to celebrate Australia Day is part of an ongoing fight for the recognition of the abuse of Indigenous people’s rights. If we give up on protesting, we might soon no longer remember the past” – Nakkiah Lui
People often make jokes about my being fair skinned and tell me I can’t understand because “I’m not aboriginal enough”.
I am ashamed to say that this of tactic has worked on me for many years since my grandfather passed and has contributed to my silence. For that I apologise to myself, to him and to the cause.
I want to remind these people of something I was reminded of recently.
I AM aboriginal.
It was a mere 4 generations back that my great, great grandparents felt the impact of this invasion first hand.
My great grandparents were in missions.
My grandfather went to war to fight for stolen land. He was paid in cigarettes instead of money because he was aboriginal, which is only one of the many injustices he suffered, whilst volunteering.
It is not so long ago.
It is not all in the past.
It is relevant.
It is current.
It is real.
It is painful.
I am so lucky to have grown up with stories of the quinkins, yowies and the min min light. I am proud to be descended from my grandfather and the Yuin people.
Today is a day that each year I reflect and I am motivated to take action.
2015 will be the year I make my grandfather proud.
January 26th, was, is and always should, be a day of mourning.
“We do not celebrate the coming of the tall ships in Sydney’s harbour. Instead, we mourn the declaration of Australia as terra nullius (land that belongs to no one) as well as those who have died in massacres, those who were dispossessed of their land and homes, those were denied their humanity, those who were shackled, beaten, sent to prison camps, and made to live in reserves. We mourn those who have died in the resistance.
We also mourn the affects of genocide and colonisation which persists to this day.”
This land that we live on was, is and always will be, aboriginal land.