'I'm an Aboriginal woman. We've been fighting for a Day of Mourning for 84 years.'

It has only been in recent years that it has been identified that Aboriginal people were the oldest continuous living culture in the world. This comes after the discovery of the Mungo Man and the Mungo Woman, whose remains were found 790km from Sydney at Lake Mungo.

Finally, scientific evidence for something we still understand as Aboriginal people today. It's “Sorry Business”, a period of mourning that has no boundaries of time and place. Sixteen years on, I am still overcome with emotion when I hear the song 'Simply the Best', a song played at my uncle’s funeral which was a perfect mix of how we feel about him, his favourite footy team and that blackfella humour. It’s always a mixture of laughter and tears; I always need to pull the car over to compose myself.

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Video via Mamamia.

The first national “Day of Mourning” was on January 26, 1938. This was in response to the 150th Anniversary of Invasion, and more directly a response to years of petitioning government to recognise not only the sovereignty of Aboriginal people but that our voice be heard in the Australian Parliament.

Letters written by William Cooper asked:

“Signed by 1814 people of the Aboriginal race, praying His Majesty the King to exercise the Royal Prerogative by intervening for this prevention of our race from extinction and to grant representation to our race in the Federal Parliament.”


It was decided by Cabinet that this letter would not be presented to the king, King George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth II. 

Of course, this brings me to the announcement of a Day of Mourning for Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, a designated time for one to mourn. A public holiday with strict, rigid rules and procedures followed by nation leaders around the world.

They announced this national holiday on Sunday, September 12, four days after the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. And I don’t want to come across like I’m petty, but that letter from William Cooper was written in 1933 and we, as Aboriginal people, are still fighting for our voices to be heard. Decedents of the brave people who petitioned in 1938 are still working tirelessly today, and the biggest proportion of Aboriginal activism is unpaid, taking on responsibilities we are born to.

These conversations are still being had in 2022 - a national referendum where the decision is going to be in the hands of non-Indigenous people, for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. We have the saying “a camel is a horse designed by a committee” - these same things Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been asking for hundreds of years now. It feels evident to me as an Aboriginal woman that we have begun to tip the scales of compromise in order to move forward.

There are much bigger issues in this country than the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. While King Charles III looks for an inkless pen, we debate how the Queen’s relatives mourn; we watch like hawks at every move Prince Andrew makes. I would like to see our country have some sort of backbone, the same one I have seen everyone applaud Queen Elizabeth II for.

It’s insulting to see our Prime Minister announce a Day of Mourning. The leaders in this country have strong opinions but it comes across as performative: Anthony Albanese’s first speech as a Prime Minister catching headlines for his act of allyship, putting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flags behind him, everyone celebrating him for endorsing the Uluru Statement from the Heart.


At the same time, we've got a five-minute speech on the Queen, a pilgrimage to her funeral and a public holiday. It's a slap in the face, I'd rather a leader who was honest about the way they feel, even if it doesn't align with our truth. 

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I think of the picture from the first Day of Mourning in 1938, a picture I can do no justice in describing, but to me it shows backbone. It shows me that when you know your truth, there is no compromise. Our truth has never changed in 234 years.

Aboriginal people have seen leadership in this country from our first Prime Minister Edmund Barton who laid the foundations for the White Australia Policy, to those who have dismantled it like Prime Minister Harold Holt or the promise of a treaty by Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

The discovery of the remains of the Mungo Man and the Mungo Woman gave scientific proof and there have been more discoveries that have followed that show our sovereignty. 

Who will have the unshakeable nerve and backbone to stand by their beliefs? A leader who will acknowledge our history - the sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people - and break free from our colonial roots and truly move us forward as a country.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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