The lead-up to January 26, aka Invasion Day or Survival Day, can be anxiety-filled for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
After the First Fleet arrived, Australia ceased to be controlled by the people who have lived here and maintained the land for 60,000 years.
For Indigenous Australians, colonisation meant their sovereignty over the land was never recognised. It meant they were not acknowledged in the constitution and still aren’t. It meant murders, being pushed off their land, racism and institutionalising whole generations of children to "breed out the colour.” It meant that every year for 232 years, on the anniversary of the day Sir Arthur Phillip stuck a flagpole in the sand at Sydney’s Woolloomooloo, Australians would celebrate the colony while Indigenous Australians were made to remember a history that brutalised their culture.
Even today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face more social, health and employment disadvantages than other Australians.
Being an ally to Indigenous Australians begins with knowing all of this (and so much more).
As Survival Day approaches, we asked a number of Indigenous educators and activists to share what non-Indigenous Australians need to know.
Here’s what they said.
January 26 is a national day of mourning
“To me, it’s about mourning what my ancestors endured then; the other part of me is in awe of the resilience, strength and determination deeply embedded into our DNA,” said Rikki Wilson, a Proud Narungga, Adnyamathanha/Wirangu, Kokotha woman and founder of Tribes United Fitness.
“How can we be anything less, with all that happened in the past?” she asked. “We are still here. Still fighting.”
Wilson adds that it’s hurtful when Indigenous people’s experiences and contributions are ignored because “the culture throughout this land is not just for us to hold, but to share with everyone.”
January 26 is not a day for partying
“Partying on Australia Day is like watching my scene in ‘The Nightingale’ and cracking a beer and celebrating,” said actor Magnolia Maymuru, a proud Yolŋu woman. Maymuru won the Best Supporting Actress AACTA for her performance in the film, which depicts the atrocities committed against Indigenous people and women in colonial Tasmania. The scene Maymuru is referring to is the moment she is gang-raped by British soldiers.
It’s OK to attend marches and Survival Day events
“It’s one of the most difficult days on the calendar for so many, and the best way you can help us get through it is by showing your support,” Tiddas 4 Tiddas co-founder and proud Kamilaroi/Dunghutti woman Marlee Silva told HuffPost Australia.
“I find a lot of people are unsure whether it’s their place to join us at marches, protests and Survival Day events, but I can’t emphasise enough that you are not only welcome there, but enthusiastically encouraged to come along.”
Trauma is still rife in today’s communities
Silva is calling for Indigenous voices to be heard this January 26.
“I want to see our non-Indigenous brothers and sisters do two key things come this January 26th,” she said: “To listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices and leadership — and by that I mean listening to learn from them, not listening to respond — and to show up and stand in solidarity alongside us.”
For Australians to move forward together, the government must acknowledge that January 26 commemorates a tragic intervention that caused trauma still rife in today’s communities, Wilson said.
“It means they’ll have to pull apart everything they know and are founded on,” she said while stressing the importance of not ignoring Indigenous people and their knowledge.
“The bushfires are a perfect example of the way cultural processes in land management have been ignored for decades, and now the whole country and potentially the world are paying for it,” Wilson said.
“It’s like this ego we face is creating blockages for this nation to heal. And in order to heal anything, [we have] to acknowledge that the wound is there to begin with.”
“The bushfires are a perfect example of the way cultural processes in land management have been ignored for decades, and now the whole country and potentially the world are paying for it”
The real history
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is spending more than $60 million of taxpayer money to send a replica of Cook’s HMS Endeavour to circumnavigate Australia — even though Cook only ever sailed the east coast.
“I think it’s one of those perfect storms of nonsense,” professor Marcia Langton, a proud Iman woman, told HuffPost Australia. “Why are they sending a replica of the Endeavour to circumnavigate Australia when it never circumnavigated Australia?”
Instead, Langton urges the government to celebrate 65,000 years of Aboriginal occupation of Australia “and our many achievements and contributions.”
Tiddas 4 Tiddas’ Silva agrees that Cook has nothing to do with the creation of Australia.
“Treat the anniversary of Captain Crook’s landing as an opportunity to tell the truth about our history, not to celebrate a murderous symbol of colonialism,” she said.
“Recognise that his presence was an intense and dramatic turning point in the existence and prosperity of Indigenous Australians, but not something that occurred even close to the beginning of Australia’s history.”
“Why are they sending a replica of the Endeavour to circumnavigate Australia when it never circumnavigated Australia?”
It’s OK to celebrate the good
“Talk about the resilience of our people, demonstrated in how Indigenous Australians have survived all we have since this first point of invasion,” Silva concluded.
The government must “give space for our mob to speak out in their own voices about our success and lead in deciding what all Australians need to do, to help to take the next step forward with us, not against us,” she said.