Updated: May 26, 2022
They said, “Hey Briggs, pick a date” “You know, one we can celebrate” “Where we can come together Talk about the weather, call that Australia Day” I said, “How about March 8th?” And we can do it on your Nan’s grave We can piss up, piss on her face Get lit up and burn out like Mark Skaife” They screamin’ “love it or leave it” I got more reason to be here, if you could believe it Won’t salute a constitution or who’s underneath it Turn that flag to a noose, put a cease to your breathin’ I can’t get in my whip, I get a ticket for that I get a DWB, and that’s a “Driving Whilst Black” I turn the other cheek, I get a knife in my back And I tell ’em it hurts, they say I overreact
– AB Original feat Dan Sultan, 26th of January lyrics
My ancestry is convicts from England and Ireland shipped over to Sydney and Tasmania (correct me if I’m wrong here Nan). I have never identified with this ancestry and am not a fan of the monarchy. Though I confess I also did not learn much about Aboriginal history or culture provided in the curriculum in Grade 9, I feel sure that it was a taught from the British perspective (that is, a British victory and land “gifted” to us white people opposed to “stolen”). A few years ago I heard of Australia Day referred to as Invasion Day and I was genuinely ignorant as to why that was.
In my first year of university I learnt that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s life expectancy is 17 years less than that of non-indigenous people. There are many reasons associated with this including the introduction of alcohol from Britain of which Aboriginal people do not have the gut enzyme to metabolise. Not to mention, the devastating spiritual fracture inflicted on them when their land and children were stolen. Since I had my consciousness raised about this issue, it has disgusted me that we celebrate Australia Day on the 26th of January. On this day last year, my house mates at the time and I had our housewarming. I asked one of my housemates if we could do an acknowledgement of country before lunch, of which he responded “why would we do that?”
At the time I didn't have the knowledge and strength of conviction to advocate my case.
The disrespect that is demonstrated to indigenous Australian’s over the last 200 odd years is quite profound:
Genocide, violence and rape
A generation of children stolen from their parents
Dispossession and denial of land
Black slavery in industry including Australian sugar and pearling industries
Putting the Union Jack (England’s flag) on the Australian flag and underutilising the aboriginal and Torres Strait islander flags
Overt and covert discrimination and racism
Overwhelmingly larger population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples incarcerated compared to white Australians, including disproportionate aboriginal deaths in custody to this day
Housing crisis, inaccessible health care and other forms of social poverty, exacerbated by a lack of government funding
John Howard refusing to say sorry
Celebrating our "national day" on the anniversary of the date that the Australian Aboriginal genocide started
To change the date of the national day to any of the other 364 days of the year that aren’t the anniversary of Aboriginal invasion, would be a simple symbol of respect and a great step in our reconciliation with the traditional custodians of Australia. I want a date where the national day can be celebrated by everyone, which doesn’t ask of Aboriginal people to “stomp of the graves of their ancestors”. Thinking we can keep the date and just be more sympathetic to our national history on the same day is an example of wishful thinking at best, and white privilege at worst. Changing the date is a matter of social justice.
The Meat Eating Patriot
The other things that makes me not overtly enthusiastic about celebrating Australia Day is the carnistic association of meat eating with being Australian. Vegetarian and comedian Dave Hugh’s did a marketing campaign for The Alt Meat Co about the not needing to eat animals to be Australians. Just days before, the annual Australia Day Lamb ad romantisied the colonisation of Australia depicting Captain Cook getting of his ship and shaking hands with the Aboriginal people. Building on their vegan bashing efforts of last years campaign, the 2017 ad depicted what could only be described as hippies walking along the shore, the main actor then asking the actor beside him “should I make a vegan joke?” “Nahhh” was the response. However, the ostracism of vegans is clear and so was the covert message that meat eating is part of Australian culture. However, eating baby sheep on Australia Day is not cultural, it’s colonised and ritualised cruelty.
Aboriginal Australian’s have a strong spiritual connection to their land and food. They did not traditionally farm animals or own them, they hunted wild animals and they gathered other bush foods, whilst farming various vegetables (read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe for more on this). These plant-based foods made up around 80% of their diet. Farmed animals, alcohol, sugar and other processed foods were introduced to into their diet post colonisation, which has been to the detriment of Aboriginal health in numerous communities.
So what can you do?
Do an acknowledgement of country, regardless of who that makes uncomfortable around you
Talk about these important issues with the people that are important to you to raise consciousness
Celebrate the beauty of our country in nature
Learn what you can do to help to Close the Gap
To learn about the issues watch SBS series First Contact and First Australians
Advocate to change the day so we can celebrate our country with all Australians, suggestions have been for Federation Day (January 1st, since it occurred in 1901) or Mabo Day (June 3rd, since Eddie Mabo in 1992, a Torres Strait Islander, won a 10 year fight to have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands connection to their land acknowledged by law, both before and after British colonisation. Eddie died 5 months before the High Court recognised this right by law) or May 8, mmm8888888 because “it may be cold in May but not as cold as ignoring genocide”
Visit cultural sites, Geelong folk might like to visit the You Yangs (Lara) or Bunjul’s Lookout (1795 Steiglits Road, Road).
Put vegetables on the BBQ, not baby animals.
I am currently holidaying in Adelaide. For me today is going to include drinking beer and watching Australia beat Pakistan in the last game of the One Day International cricket series. But more importantly, it has included reflection on what it means to be Australian, and how or if, as a country, we can recognise and reconcile the pain and suffering inflicted on the traditional custodians of these lands.
And as being born human is the most invisible yet prominent form of privilege there is, I also reflect on if we can ever reconcile with all the animals domesticated in this country after British colonisation; born to be enslaved, stolen from their parents and born to die – killed for a thing we call Aussie culture.
I am sorry.
We would like to Acknowledge that the land we meet on today is the traditional lands for the Kaurna people and that we respect their spiritual relationship with their Country. We also acknowledge the Kaurna people as the traditional custodians of the Adelaide region and that their cultural and heritage beliefs are still as important to the living Kaurna people today – Reconciliation South Australia
Thanks for reading,
References and Resources
You can listen to my Invasion Day playlist, showcasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music artists here
To read more about the colonisation of Australia: http://australianstogether.org.au/stories/detail/colonisation
To watch and read the criticism about how the annual Australia Day Lamb ad romanticises genocide (and puts down vegans): http://www.mamamia.com.au/lamb-ad-2017-criticism/
To read more about Mabo Day: https://www.reconciliation.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/NRW2014_3-June-Mabo_FactS.pdf
Take the pledge to Love Lambs this Australia Day: http://www.animalsaustralia.org/australia-day?ua_s=facebook
Dave Hughs addresses Australia for The Alt Meat Co: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnSYeojvPOM