With Australia Day upon us once more, I suggest we change the meaning. From Invasion to reconciliation. A brand new day.
If we can’t settle on changing the date, I have an alternate idea. I propose we keep our national day of celebration, but turn it into a day of unified acknowledgment and reconciliation, called – maybe – the Day of the Deadly.
I’m thinking yarning circles, storytelling, the hosting of films by Indigenous filmmakers; neighbourhood performances by local Indigenous artists, discussion groups, learning circles hosted by community elders who are willing to share their wisdom and time. Like the coffee mornings for cancer, it might start virally at a community level and over several years become funded, official, calendared. A chance for non-Indigenous Australians, many of whom seem to me shy and nervous of contact with Indigenous brothers and sisters, to learn a little from the languages, cultures, and people originally native to our lovely, big, messed up nation.
We need a time for the rest of us to be quiet and listen, to say Sorry and Thank You. A quiet, person-to-person welcoming, a restitution, a “getting to know you” on a local and personal level. Imagine tours of the old landscapes, in your own area. Imagine scores of events offered by all kinds of people. Imagine a day of learning across both peoples.
I want us to honour our own settler-invader cultures. I’d love us to begin rejoicing in the wit and verve and resilience, the sacred seriousness of these displaced but brilliantly surviving peoples.
Our country, like other colonised countries, is enriched by the suffering of many nations. Our immigrants as well as our Indigenous traditional owners are ourselves: literally, in total. Yet though we lionise the fallen of the disastrous Gallipoli conflict in World War One, the cenotaph standing in every tiny Australian town is unaccompanied by any monument to the Aboriginal warriors who died fighting in the same ideal, defence of their land. Nor to the women and children slain with poisoned flour and poisoned waterholes. Nor to the young men who manage mysteriously to hang themselves on boot laces whilst in police custody. While the wound is 200 years old, it remains fresh.
I’d like us to recognise the wrongs of the past and start righting the wrongs of the present. I think maybe it starts with people listening to one another. I feel unless we learn to better understand each other and each other’s pain, we’re destined to dodge the lessons of history, instead of building on it.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Indigenous issues: Whitefellas need to stop talking and start listening
- Closing the Gap: Do things with us, not to us
- 26th January: India and Australia – A story of two colonies
- If Stan Grant’s speech broke your heart, here’s what to do about it
I want us to honour our own settler-invader cultures by humbly asking Indigenous cultures to be once again the root, the stem, the foundation of our nation. Think of all the space we could be making in our public and community life for Indigenous people’s suffering and survival, and to honour and recognise their grace. I’d love us to begin rejoicing in the wit and verve and resilience, the sacred seriousness of these displaced but brilliantly surviving peoples. We cannot heal from our colonial past nor repair our still-colonialist attitudes until we learn to truly hear and see one another.
We cannot rescue our beleaguered ecosystems but by inviting back the wise custodial care of their traditional owners.
There is no honest foundation stone for Australia but the recognition that ours always has been, always will be Aboriginal land. The rest of us are living here by their grace and I think it’s time we starting finding ways to drop the defensiveness and to truly belong.