explainer

'I'm a proud Gamilaroi and Kooma woman. Let me tell you about my great grandfather. And my cousin.'

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains names and descriptions of people who have died.

In 2021, Mamamia will only refer to January 26 by its date, to acknowledge that it is not a day of celebration for all Australians. If you want to be an ally this January 26, we urge you to sign this letter to your MP about the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which calls for constitutional change and structural reform that recognises the sacred, ancient spiritual link Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have to their land.

As I watch the New Year's Eve fireworks show each year, a dark cloud slowly looms over me.

January, and more specifically January 26, is a Day of Mourning for our people (the first Day of Mourning protest took place on January 26, 1938). With the advances in technology each year, I expect to see more and more ignorant comments. 

Media outlets thrive on divisive polls that create a space for people to share their ignorant and bigoted opinions, even people I once considered friends.

Watch: The Stolen Generations: Why I Can't 'Get Over It'. Post continues below.


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"It's just a date" is a common theme. When I try to engage in a respectful conversation on the matter I am always met with complete disdain which always ends in a pile on of non-Indigenous folk telling me that I "need to get over it" or should think myself lucky that (insert country) didn’t invade us. 

Soon after things turn personal. I find myself being that angry Aboriginal girl I was in high school when I would be taunted with racial slurs until I would snap, and the air would be filled with laughter. 

I can only speak for myself as a proud Gamilaroi and Kooma woman but I was not given the gift of generational trauma that is embedded in the person I am for nothing.

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My cousin Eddie Murray did not die in incarceration for nothing. My great grandfather Lawrence Fernando was not stolen at five years old for nothing. My great uncle did not fight in the war for Australia and die in combat for me to drive past my local RSL and not see the Aboriginal Flag flying in front of the Anzac Memorial.

I am more likely to be incarcerated, more likely to be sexually assaulted, more likely to be in a domestic violence relationship, and I even have the pleasure of knowing I will live roughly 9.6 years less than my non-Indigenous counterparts.

My great-grandfather Lawrence Fernando – stolen from Angledool Mission in 1920 at 5 years of age. Image: Supplied.

I do not want anyone to feel attacked. I do not expect an apology for the past atrocities in this country and I certainly do not personally put blame on any individual - it is much bigger than that. 

What we need is Acknowledgement. 

Acknowledgement that my ancestors looked after this land for 65,000 years before 11 ships led by Captain Arthur Phillip turned up on January 26, 1788. 

We had names for our own nations which are not nearly recognised enough for their important significance. Each having their own set of LORE (meaning, cultural customs and traditions) my ancestors understood that there were more than four seasons in each year. My ancestors understood the dynamics of country surviving the ice ages, existing with prehistoric animals and megafauna, and my ancestors looked after Mother (meaning: Mother Earth) accordingly.

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This connection to Mother still exists for Indigenous people today. 

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I had the honour of driving back to my country this year in Angledool, NSW. I was the first descendant of Lawrence Fernando in 98 years to return. I put my bare feet on the earth and felt my ancestors with me. 

On the eight-hour drive home I collected the earth from my feet and rubbed it through my hair where it is said our strength comes from. 

I was unable to have the culturally enriched upbringing I so badly sought after; colonisation prevented this.

I had to search for this myself and after 32 years I am slowly learning who I am, and I look forward to learning so much more.

I want you to walk with me. 

Change will never come without non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander allies standing with us.

Let us see the date changed so that each January Indigenous people are not burdened with defending something that has directly affected their lives and shaped the person they are.

Stop making Indigenous people explain their trauma in order to validate how strongly we feel about this.

Let us see this date changed so it can be more inclusive of everyone who calls Australia home.

In the end, January 26 should always be remembered, just not celebrated. 

It should be a day of reflection for Australian people, perhaps a day to learn more about the country we all love – the good, the bad and the ugly. I do not want the job of educating others each January, reliving my ancestors' trauma – being met with graphic pictures in my imagination of the faces I never got to see being slaughtered, raped and stolen. 

I want to give in my formal resignation but I know it’s not possible until things change. Indigenous people will continue to endure the emotional toll of educating others until non-indigenous Australians can take the time to do it for themselves. Understand our truth and work with us. We cannot make these changes without you too.

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List of books and resources:

Eddie’s Country: A book about the first coronial inquest into the death in custody of Eddie Murray

Indigenous Australia For Dummies by Larissa Behrendt: This book explains significant and historical events in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – including statistics and common misconceptions, 

The Little Red Yellow Black book: An Introduction to Indigenous AustraliaThis updated edition is an authoritative introduction to Indigenous Australia. Featuring real-life case studies and covering history, culture, arts, sport, languages, population, health, education and the workforce, governance, resistance, and reconciliation

Dark Emu, Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture by Bruce Pascoe: "Dark Emu injects a profound authenticity into the conversation about how we Australians understand our continent ... [It is] essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what Australia once was, or what it might yet be if we heed the lessons of long and sophisticated human occupation." - Judges for 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

Finding the Heart of the Nation: This details the journey of those who collaborated to create this Uluru Statement from the Heart

Reading for Children - Dreaming stories have important meaning to Aboriginal people, these were used as important lessons for Aboriginal children and now can be a fantastic resource for all children to learn and reflect.

7 traditional Dreamtime stories and books by indigenous Australian authors

DREAMTIME STORIES: Here are a series of dreaming books for children, as well as having these to read at home with your children they are a great resource for young children in school.

Young Dark EmuThis book is tailored from the original Dark Emu for younger readers

Finding our HeartThis book details the process of how the Uluru Statement was made and why, it includes a map of Australia and the Aboriginal nations within Australia – the map is a great tool to teach our children what country they are living on so they too are able to acknowledge those before them.

Feature Image: Supplied.