opinion

Four Indigenous women on how we can move the 'change the date' debate forward.

It’s an inevitability at this time of year. As January 26 approaches, Australians ask the same question of ourselves and of our leaders: is this the date on which we ought to celebrate our national identity? Should we be clinking our glasses to this beautiful country, to our good fortune, to our liberties, on the anniversary of an invasion?

Some say we should ‘get over it, just move on’, but the four First Nations women below say, ‘let’s move forward’.

Here is what they want you to know about the day that divides the nation.

Susan Moylan-Coombs.

Woolwonga, Gurindji woman and independent candidate for the seat of Warringah.

Image: Karen Watson/Supplied.

As we head towards January 26th, our national day of controversy and debate, my message is: Come on Australia, we are better than this!

It’s time to talk about Australia Day with a united voice of reason.

As a Woolwonga, Gurindji woman from the NT, I know we need to talk about the truth and trauma of this anniversary to understand why its ‘celebration’ feels like pressing on a bruise to First Nations people every January.

Why do Australia’s leaders continue to allow January 26 to divide us as a nation?
Why is it “safer” for politicians to prevent the bruise from healing?
Why is the Australia Day of January 26 so defensively held as a ‘tradition’ when this holiday was only declared in 1994, and only eighteen months after the High Court overturned the doctrine of Terra Nullius?

ADVERTISEMENT

Every summer, the same conversation about Australia Day gathers momentum. As the annual hostilities begin, many Australians hope for a different outcome. But, like “Ground Hog Day”, this now 230-year-old debate – with no winner – ends in a stalemate of ‘us and them’.

I want to move the conversation from one of hostility to one of hope.

Next year, I would like to see the inevitable Australia Day discourse take a new direction. I’d like to hear the talk turn towards healing the open wound that splits this nation in two.
It saddens me that, today, our nation is at war with itself over a version of Australia Day that has been packaged by government leaders as our answer to America’s Independence Day, or France’s Bastille Day. Australia had no such revolution for the common good.

A treaty is the only step towards healing the ongoing Australia Day trauma experienced by Indigenous Australians.

Daniella Borg

Noongar woman, mother of nine and star of SBS' Family Rules.

Image: Sabine Albers/SBS

I am a proud Noongar woman and Australian from Perth, Western Australia.

From my perspective, celebrating the unity of our nation is incredibly important - just not on January 26. For my mob, this day represents the birth of injustice to First Nations peoples: displacement from country, the fragmentation of families akin to genocide, and the denial of rights and culture.

Today, social indicators strongly suggest the oppression and marginalisation is still a daily reality for my mob.

ADVERTISEMENT

As a Noongar woman, I see the consequences of 26 January, 1788. My mother has told me heartbreaking stories about her mother’s life. A life dictated by racism and government policy. This date and the government that ensued resulted in my nanna having her children forcibly removed and eventually returned, which instilled a deep fear preventing her from teaching Noongar culture to her children.

As a mother, I need to be able to teach my children the difference between 26 January and Australia Day. I want my children to be proud of their cultural identity and the nation in which we live. I want to teach my children that all people should be valued and treated equitably. It’s important that my children and grandchildren be given the opportunity to celebrate the unity of our country. However this is not to be, as Australia Day on 26 January divides our community. It promotes the “us and them" mentality, which stems from our colonial history of one culture invading and controlling another culture. This does not unite us as a nation.

I believe all Australians should be valued. We need to not only celebrate our similarities, but embrace our differences by acknowledging the detrimental effects of 26 January to First Nations peoples.

If the date was changed, we could move forward and celebrate Australia Day. Together.

Karla Grant

Arrente woman, award-winning journalist and host of Living Black.

Karla Grant. Image: Getty.

As told to Mamamia Out Loud:

January 26 is a very difficult day for many Indigenous Australians, First Nations people, around our country. For me, personally, I've never celebrated Australia Day, my family have never celebrated it. What it represents to me is the arrival of the First Fleet, colonisation of our country, the dispossession of our land, the taking away of our language and culture. So it's not a day of celebration for myself or for many other Indigenous Australians.

ADVERTISEMENT

So it's great that we're having this conversation about changing the date. It's been going on for a number of years now, and I think that it's good to talk about where we are as a nation, what that day means to us and whether we should move it to another day. A day where both black and white in this country can celebrate together as a unified nation.

As we know, a [2016 survey showed] that six out of 10 Australians haven't met an Indigenous person... So I think it's a great day to go out there and get educated and become aware of the issues that we're facing and why January 26 is a difficult day for us.

To non-Indigenous women, join in with your Indigenous sisters. Any [First Nations] events that are happening, attend them; join with us.

Aboriginal women are very resilient women and we always have been the backbone of our communities. We're doing a lot of work in our communities at various different levels to try and change the situation for Indigenous Australians, which as we know are the most disadvantaged group of people in the population. So there is a lot of work to be done in terms of making sure that we're equal, that we have equal opportunities to everyone else in this country to pursue whatever it is that we want to pursue. Non-Indigenous women can join with us in that, and also educate the rest of the nation about Indigenous issues.

We don't want people feeling sorry for us. We don't want to be looked at as the victims. We want people to join in with us to to improve the situation for Indigenous Australians.

Tanya Denning-Orman

Birri and Guugu Yimidhirr woman, NITV Channel Manager (and one of the youngest television executives in the country).

Tanya. Image: NITV
ADVERTISEMENT

As told to Mamamia Out Loud:

Australia Day, to me, means a lot of things. But one thing it is not is 'Australia Day'. For me, it's actually a day that brings conflict, internally. But it also is day that does make me feel very strong; strong in the resilience of the community I've come from. And it makes me feel empowered about the future we can have as a nation.

[On January 26] most capital cities have an event going on with Indigenous people, where we're actually celebrating our survival and talking about what this day is. I appreciate that people can feel uncomfortable about this day, but what I think is really interesting is that we're having a conversation, as Australians, about our real history, about what makes us Australian and the potential future nation we want to be. And of course not everyone's agreeing, but I think it's really important we acknowledge that we're having that conversation as a nation. And to be a great ally, is to actually get to know a black fulla, come and hang out with us on the day. You'll probably be really rewarded and feel more Australian than you've ever felt in your entire life.

...At the end of the day, we're women, we're all women. What I love about being an Aboriginal woman in 2019 is knowing what has got me to this point professionally, but also being able to live in Australia the way I do.

I come from such a strong line of amazing black women who've gone through such tremendous hardships. My mother, my grandmother and those who went before, were put in missions around Australia. The challenges are real. What you hear about and read about in media actually is real. The horrendous treatment happened, and they're just my generation away. I'm in my early 40s, and this happened to my mother, to my aunties. But the fact that I hold that as a way forward, rather than something that holds me back, is [a perspective] that I think many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have.

What this day gives us is a conversation that we don't have the rest of the days of the year. Yes, a lot of bad things happened, and we have a lot of bad things still happening today. The point is: how do we get to tomorrow? And we are all empowered to change our tomorrow.

00:00 / ???