It’s Australia Day today and I truly hope those of you who celebrate today have a good time. As for me personally Australia Day is not something I get too excited about. For many Aboriginal people, including me, the anniversary of Captain Cook setting foot in Australia and planting the Union Jack conjures thoughts of invasions, massacres and dispossession of our ancestors from our land.
Not that I am looking to be too morbid on a day that many of you choose to celebrate; I am just not into it. To some extent I get why many Australians choose to celebrate today, although I cant help reflecting on the notion that Australia was not really ‘discovered’ by Captain James Cook on 26 January all those years ago. It is well known that Aboriginal Australians were here long before his arrival. What is perhaps not as well known is that many different explorers from many different nations were visiting Australia and trading for centuries before any of us even saw or heard of Captain Cook. They were more interested in trading with the First People rather than sticking a flag in the ground and proclaiming ‘All this belongs to me!’ or something like that.
In spite of my misgivings, continue to enjoy your celebrations. As I sincerely respect your enthusiasm for Australia Day and the Aussie flag which many Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, fought wars together under, I’d hope that you are mindful and respectful that those same symbols invoke some cruel and unkind reflections for many others, in particular, Indigenous Australians. This is not an ideal circumstance I know, but I cannot be forced to like and be enthusiastic about something I just can’t get excited about. A truly ideal circumstance would be in finding a date that symbolises and celebrates the nationhood of Australia in a way that excites both you and me together.
Here is one thought! On the 3rd of June, 1992 one of modern Australia’s greatest institutions, the High Court, acknowledged and embraced one of ancient Australia’s greatest institutions, Native Title, in what was known as the Mabo Decision. It truly was a point in Australia’s history where ancient and modern Australia converged in a way that many, including me, consider positive. Surely that is something we could celebrate together.
Of course there will be some who say that the Mabo Decision was a disaster because all of a sudden we had to acknowledge that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were already here and had title rights. I’m no legal expert but there is one simple technicality rendering this thinking dramatically flawed and to be blunt, quite dopey. Umm… Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people actually were here first and actually did have native title rights! Like many decent Australians I am happy to look beyond such ignorance in the interests of finding things that bring us together to celebrate. Yes this quest to find things that we can celebrate is a challenge, but it is a worthwhile challenge, and one to be excited about. Again sincerely, enjoy your celebrations today.