Here we go again. It seems that every year now, we re-engage the uncomfortable debate about Australia Day. Over on one side, there’s the tradition. Why muck around with proud Aussies being proud of being proud Aussies? On the other, an uneasiness about celebrating the brutality of a bunch of foreigners breezing in and taking over an entire continent with barely a second thought for the inhabitants and actual owners of the place.
There doesn’t appear to be a middle ground. On both sides, black and white entrench themselves and slug it out on the frontline of the culture wars.
However, there is also another side to this debate. One not often spoken of, except perhaps in Aboriginal yarning.
My name is Greg Page and I am Yuin and Dharawal from Warrung (Sydney). My community is La Perouse (Guriwal) on Botany Bay (Gamay). I’m a proud fighting Koori man.
In a way, La Perouse is the front line when thinking about invasion because our community were the very first people to witness it. We saw it live. In fact, you could say it was ‘streamed’ to us: When the first two ships of the first fleet arrived in Yarra Bay on a few days before the original January 26th, a few of the British came ashore to take in fresh water from the local creek. My people stayed safely back in the sand dunes witnessing these extremely strange newcomers.
Since then a lot of change has occurred for all Aboriginal people. Some good, most bad. At ‘Lapa’ we have maintained our proud strong Koori identity throughout the entirety of the invasion. We’re still here.
Because of all this, my own view of Australia Day is not one you’ll hear widely expressed in the mainstream. But what follows is a valid Koori perspective on the Australia Day “problem”:
To put it quite bluntly, I’m not interested at all in “changing the date”. I’m not interested at all in changing the flag, changing the head of state, the official language, in changing the British legal system the invasion has imposed upon this continent, or changing any of the other colonial embellishments the original arrivals decided would be for the best to bring ‘civilisation’ to our sacred continent.
These things are what the nation state called ‘Australia’ is founded on. It is the white Australian origin story on this continent. It is where they came from. That is indisputable. It is fact.
But that is not our Koori story. It doesn’t represent who we are as Aboriginal people. Quite the opposite. Theirs is a creation story reflected by mandate in the various institutions of state. Everything reinforces the antipodean British national creation narrative. At the apex sits the British crown and the its local proxy, the federal parliament itself.
This is why I also oppose the present push for an Indigenous Voice to the Parliament. The Australian parliament was never designed for us and will never represent us. Tacking on an a toothless Indigenous appendix body as an afterthought is an ultimately regressive action which diminishes the greatest hope for most Aboriginal people. Wherever researchers and advocates went to listen to Aboriginal people about what they wanted in the potential Constitutional amendment, those people said with a unified voice one simple word:
Sovereignty, meaning Aboriginal people deciding how we will govern ourselves. It means having a safe distance between our communities and the will of ‘Australia’ being imposed upon us. For too long, Australians have assumed that Aboriginal people will eventually get used to Australia and want to join in nation building so we can all live as one big happy nation under the benevolent British crown.
This completely ignores the reality that the British crown itself is our biggest problem: ‘Australia’ isn’t a result of the British invasion of 1788. For us, Australia is the invasion.
Think about that for a second. None of the institutions of actual power on this continent are Aboriginal. None of the parliaments, courts, police, military, public service, prisons, universities, emergency services, etc. All are either directly or indirectly run out of the British crown. Out of the invasion.
This simple fact is also reflected in Australia’s national holidays, not just Australia Day but also Christmas, Easter, New Year, Queen’s Birthday, Labor Day, etc… None of them are Indigenous to this continent. All stem from the will, desires and culture of the invader. Again, just like the institutions, the national days are an extension of the creation myth.
For us, sovereignty would mean that Aboriginal people would enjoy having our own parliament/s. Our own courts. Our own police force. Perhaps beginning simply with our own university (the Catholics have their own publicly funded multi-campus national University, why not us?)
Sovereignty would mean we would have strong frameworks in place to decide what is best for our communities. It would mean that we would finally have safe spaces for our cultural practices to flourish again, away from the white hot spotlight of ‘Australian values’ judging us by inherited (foreign) British values.
Sovereignty would also mean we respect the history of the newcomers. Means we honour their history and creation story because it isn’t ours and ours isn’t theirs. Mutual honesty and truth-telling. The first fleet was no more Aboriginal than we as Koori people were British. To try and merge the two into one is clumsy at best, and in many ways an historical deception.
Australia must one day realise that the sure and certain will of Aboriginal people is to have our own will represented in our own institutions on our sacred continent. Institutions of governance and actual power, just as Australia has theirs proudly modelled on their British past.
I understand some reading this will claim this sounds like ‘apartheid’. That betrays a shallow understanding of what apartheid actually is. We do not seek to dominate Australia by separating from it. We seek a share of actual power in a way the old South Africa never did.
Aboriginal sovereignty is coming. It is the will of our people, articulated clearly time and again. I call on Australians to embrace it and, in doing so, be proud of their own special creation day. In short, don’t change the date, there’s no need.
In the spirit of our shared destiny, Aboriginal and Australian, on our shared continent, I wish you a very happy Australia Day.
This article was written for Junkee so it is shorter than my usual length.