On Australia Day, 1988, I helped organised a march through Sydney: 40,000 Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people protesting for land rights but also for recognition of our story.
We walked past the NSW Parliament, which would not see its first Aboriginal representative until my election in 2007; past courts which would not see their first Senior Counsel until Tony McAvoy’s appointment in 2015; past a Central Business District that was almost entirely devoid of Aboriginal business leaders.
The absence of Aboriginal voices from within the institutions which Australia Day is ostensibly a celebration of was a reminder of how marginalised First Peoples remained even then.
Many of these things have changed.
At the time we were angry and hurt that our story, millennia of lived human experience on this continent, was all but ignored by Centenary Australia Day celebrations.
Today, I still feel that discomfort and I know others in our community do too. There are many things to celebrate about Australia, but the birth of the Terra Nullius myth isn’t one of them.
There is no question that for First Peoples, Australia Day remains a controversial, even painful event.
The massacres of the colonial era, the loss of so much of our culture and the very real human impact of the arrival loom large.
It is only in the last 20 years that this truth has begun to be told. In fact, for a long time we practised a kind of wilful blindness about our history. Now more than ever Australia Day events recognise First Peoples and recognise what the arrival meant for the original inhabitants of this land.
Listen: Why this year's Lamb Ad has been so controversial. (Post continues after audio.)
As a community we have to ask: are the events of January 26, 1788, what most Australians have in mind when we celebrate Australia Day?