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.