Survival Day — No time to celebrate

Jay McDonald Green Left Weekly January 23, 2011

Australia Day is traditionally the most racist day of the year for Aboriginal people.

When people celebrate on January 26, there is no escaping the fact they are celebrating the day that one race of people invaded another race of people’s country and took control of Aboriginal lands and tried to dominate Aboriginal people.

Invasion Day, as it should be called, celebrates the dispossession of land, culture, and way of life of Aborigines.

Aborigines and members of the wider community should not allow this to continue. Otherwise we are saying that it was ok to try to destroy the Aboriginal way of life, to murder Aborigines and to attempt cultural genocide.

True reconciliation cannot be achieved and a just society cannot be built if we continue to celebrate the gains of one race at the expense of another.

Invasion Day is a day to remember the wrongs that were committed against Aborigines, a day to remember the injustices forced upon one race of human beings by another.

This is no day for celebrating; it’s a day for mourning, a time to reflect, and a time to steel ourselves for the ongoing battle for a better society.

Jay McDonald is an activist with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, Launceston.

Why Wattle Day should be our national day

Paul W. Newbury Eureka Street January 23rd 2011

I am one of many Australians who cannot commemorate Australia Day on 26 January because I find it impossible to celebrate national unity on a day that divides the nation between the Indigenous survivors of invasion and those who inherited the spoils of their dispossession.

The antipathy of the Indigenous peoples of Australia to this day as a day of celebration is deeply entrenched. In the past, they have marked 26 January as an occasion to publicise their grievances against the dominant society.

In 1938, Aboriginal people commemorated the sesquicentenary as a Day of Mourning and Protest organised by the Aborigines Progressive Association. In a manifesto entitled 'Aborigines Claim Citizenship Rights', they asserted that 150 years of so-called progress for non-Aboriginal Australians was for them a century and a half of misery and degradation.

In 1972, Aboriginal land rights activists set up the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawn of Parliament House in Canberra on Australia Day in response to the refusal of the McMahon Coalition Government to consider their demand for land rights. This was a highly original protest and the notion of 'embassy' implied the alien status of Indigenous peoples in their own land.

In 2011, Australia is a far different nation to what it was then and Indigenous protest movements have played their part in building a better society.

When I ponder on being Australian, I think of the natural beauty of Australia and the Indigenous peoples whose cultures adorn the island continent. We are a diverse people in a diverse land and these are aspects of our identity we can celebrate as a nation.

I think too of the Mabo decision of High Court of Australia in 1992 that has led to major reform especially in recent times as state and federal governments have shown they are prepared to work with Indigenous peoples to resolve native title issues through mediation.
Considering these important events, I believe we should choose a day other than the day the First Fleet landed at Port Jackson to celebrate Australia Day. I suggest Wattle Day, the first day of September is an ideal day for this purpose.

The Australian floral emblem is acacia pyenantha — Golden Wattle.

Wattle as a symbol offers something to Indigenous peoples because it is native to this place rather than being a memorial of our ties with Great Britain. Henry Lawson wrote of wattle as a symbol of Australia and of being Australian. It is also a symbol of the nation's integration as part of the Asia region, and the first day of spring down under heralds new growth.

In August 1999, Governor-General Sir William Deane stood by Switzerland's Saxeton River Gorge with the families and friends of Australians who died in a canyoning expedition, and threw 14 sprigs of wattle into the waters. He said the wattle signified that a small part of Switzerland had become and would always be part of Australia.

This exemplifies wattle's power as a symbol of the nation — it is embedded in our history and culture.

Lawson likened the power of wattle to that of the shamrock, thistle and rose of the British Isles. Wattle is a unifying symbol and in its multitude of forms, it grows in every state and territory. Its profusion is a sign of fertility for a growing nation.

As a symbol of nature, it is a sign of the depth of feeling Indigenous people have for their land. Their ecological practice is an outcome of their relations of kinship with the natural world and they contribute a great deal to land management across Australia based on their eco-knowledge.

There are a wide range of cooperative activities between Indigenous groups, government and industry. Indigenous people refer to these as 'looking after country'.

Their co-management practices extend from World Heritage Areas like the Great Barrier Reef to parts of the country where they are the only presence. Living in harmony with the land is an Indigenous practice we can acknowledge on Australia Day. It is consistent with our need to conserve water and other natural assets.

Recently, Prime Minister Gillard announced that the Federal Government would set up a panel to consult widely about an amendment to the Australian Constitution recognising Indigenous Australians as First Peoples. This is a step towards integrating Indigenous peoples fully into the Australian nation while recognising their essential difference.

The consultation process provides a forum for gauging Indigenous peoples' feelings towards celebrating our national day on a date acceptable to all Australians.

Paul W Newbury writes on Indigenous issues and the environment. In 2003, he was co-author with Bob Randall of Songman, the Story of an Aboriginal Elder of Uluru, published by ABC Books.