When asked what you think about changing Australia Day’s date, tell them this instead.

Video via The Project

The debate around celebrating Australia day is fierce. We’ve heard about it on radio stations and seen it plastered across news stands. There have been heated conversations in workplaces, and no doubt it’s been raised at the dinner table.

On the surface, it is the anniversary of January 26, 1788, when the British First Fleet landed at Port Jackson New South Wales and the British flag was raised at Sydney Cove. Deeper than this, however, and it is the anniversary of the beginning of a new colony, and the forced ending of another.

Aborigine
Image via Getty.

As the years scrolled on from that 1788 landing, White Australians marked the occasion with barbecues and eskies and beach parties fuelled by locally brewed beers. Throughout this, Aboriginal Australians were nowhere to be seen.

Left out of the celebrations the same way they'd been banished from their homes, raped, murdered, stolen from, forced into slavery, and, later, pushed into alcoholism and drug abuse after an entire generation of their children were ripped from their homes.

Is this day really cause for celebration? Will changing the date really make any difference? What are we celebrating, when we say we're 'celebrating' Australia?

All of these are questions that go round and round and round within the politically charged conversation. And perhaps they should.

But today, as you argue about the issue - because no doubt it will be raised - remember the people.

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Last night on Channel 10's The Project, Hamish McDonald delivered a package about the Forrest River massacre, also known as the Oombulgurri massacre, of June 1926.

A Royal Commission was held to investigate this massacre and discovered two white police officers - James St Jack and Dennis Regan - were to blame for the dozens of Aboriginal bodies found burnt and dismembered in several locations around the region in Western Australia. The number of victims could not be determined, considering the state of the bodies, and the estimate is between 16 and 20.

"January 26 represents the beginning of colonisation," writer and actor Nakkiah Lui told The Project. "And what that colonisation was, was genocide. It was massacres. It was the dispossession of land. It was taking away people's homes. It was shackling them, beating them, and sending them to live on reserves.

"It was the denial of humanity. It was having their children taken away. It was being classed as flora and fauna and not being considered Australian citizens until 1967."

Jack and Regan never went to trial, indeed they were given their police officer jobs back. But we don't hear about this.

We don't hear about the 1828 Cape Grim massacre, in which a group of 30 or so Aboriginal Tasmanians were ambushed by four farmers in the north-west of the island. The four farmers opened fire and killed every single one of the Aboriginal Tasmanians who'd simply been gathering food. Their bodies were thrown off a cliff.

Initially, it was said the massacre followed a raid on the farmers' sheep. However, author of the 2008 book Beyond Awakening, Ian McFarlane, believes it was a matter of escalating violence after White Australians made a habit of kidnapping and raping Indigenous women in the area. The farm raids and the killings were a follow-on from the brutality of the colonisers.

We don't hear about the final officially-sanctioned massacre of Aboriginal people (that we know of), which took place not 100 years ago in 1928 in the Northern Territory.

Known as the Coniston massacre, it was a two-month long stint that came after the murder of a white dingo hunter Fred Brooks. The accounts of why he died vary, as there were no eye witnesses. Some say he asked an Aboriginal man for his wife to perform chores in exchange for food and, when Brooks failed to pay the woman for her work, her husband killed him. Whatever the reason, the death of this 61-year-old dingo hunter on August 7, 1928 reverberated through the community.

Settlers surrounded by Aborigines. This is believed to be the earliest photograph taken in Australia. (Photo by Henry Guttmann/Getty Images)
This is believed to be the earliest photograph taken in Australia. (Photo by Henry Guttmann/Getty Images)

During a manhunt for those responsible for Brooks' death, police killed up to 170 Aboriginal men in 'the course of duty'. The exact numbers are unknown and range between 31 and well into the hundreds.

According to author John Cribbin who wrote the 1984 book The Killing Times, the police report issued by Constable Murray in Alice Springs on October 18 read: "Incidents occurred on an expedition and unfortunately drastic action had to be taken and resulted in a number of male natives being shot."

No one knows how many people died or how they were killed.

What we do know is that, according to a map put together by the University of Newcastle, there were more than 150 Aboriginal massacres that occurred across the country from the year of settlement until the early 1900s.

And these are the stories we should be telling.

As you hear and see and partake in the debate around celebrating Australia Day (or not) on January 26, don't forget the people.

Because this is about more than the symbolism of the date change, and about more than the politics of left and right. What's truly important is an acknowledgment, a remembrance and an unflinching shame about what White Australia did to the Aboriginal Australians who've called this land their home for thousands and thousands of years.

The Binge interviews Miranda Tapsell about the need for diversity on Australian television and her struggle to get work as an indigenous actress.

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