Thirty years ago today, I was a schoolgirl standing in the crowds around Sydney Harbour watching a re-enactment of the landing of the First Fleet 200 years before. I didn’t know then that at the same moment, the largest protest in Australia since the Vietnam War was happening just down the street.
I didn’t know then that the day I had been singing about as the “celebration of a nation” was for many others felt and remembered as “Invasion Day”, “Day of Mourning” and “Survival Day.”
I didn’t know then that the Prime Minister was making a promise that day that there would be a treaty with our indigenous peoples within two years, a treaty that has still not eventuated, making Australia the only Commonwealth country without one.
I didn’t know then that sixteen years earlier, a tent embassy had been established outside Parliament House as a response to our nation’s refusal to recognise the rights of our indigenous peoples. I had caught a glimpse of that tent while on a school excursion two years prior, but I certainly hadn’t been told what it was or had that story included in our introduction to our country’s (white) history.
I didn’t know then that fifty years earlier, Aboriginal men had been locked up at the Redfern Police Barracks stable and then forced to be unwilling participants in an (inaccurate) re-enactment of the events of 150 years prior.
I didn’t know then that the mortality rate of indigenous children in Australia is twice that of non-indigenous children, or that there is a life expectancy gap of between 10 and 17 years.
I didn’t know then the words “stolen generations.” I had never heard them and would be horrified to discover what they mean.
I didn’t know then a single Aboriginal person. I hadn’t heard their stories, been welcomed onto their lands, been embraced by their communities, sung together as sisters and brothers, learned from their incredibly rich and diverse cultures.
And I didn’t know then that as well as my First Fleet ancestors whom I was taught to take such pride in, I have ancestors who participated in massacres of indigenous Australians. That this, too, is my history.
I didn’t know then. But I know now.
And now that I know, I can’t find today a day of celebration.
Now that I have learned, I can’t pretend that this doesn’t affect me or touch my life.
Now that I have listened, I can’t ignore the pain and hurt that has been shared with me by those who carry it.
That’s why I believe it’s time to #changethedate.
*Just to be clear, I do think 26 January should continue to be a day on which we acknowledge and remember the troubled history of this land and consider how we can work towards greater reconciliation and justice. But I think we should choose another day for our National Celebration Holiday.
3 thoughts on “When you can no longer say ‘I didn’t know’ … it’s time to #changethedate”
How about 14th May? That’s the date on which Pedro Di Quiros declared everything from the New Hebrides to the Pole to Terra Austriaius du Spiritu Santu that is from whence the name of Australia is derived. That pre-dates the arrival of British settlers and prisoners but is inclusive of anyone who was already here.
Thanks Melinda. This day should definitely be given a different name: Colonisation Day … First Fleet Day … Invasion Day (invasion in every sense, as the land was declared uninhabited: people were declared non-people).
I do like the idea that has been suggested, of moving the date of “Australia Day” (if we must have such a day) to “May-eight”. 🙂