To claim to be suffering in any
way on 26 January because Australia Day celebrations are taking place, is to claim that your emotional well-being is under the control of those who celebrate on that day. In a sense that makes the mourners little ‘Australia-Day’ puppets whose emotional strings are being pulled by those celebrating Australia Day.
On Australia Day this year, I’m going to do what I do most years; have the day off work; reflect on what a great country we live in and where we have come from; socialize with friends and family; and also reflect briefly upon the arrival of the British. Being part-Aboriginal Australian with half English ancestry, I cannot ignore what impact the British ‘invasion’ had, if for no other reason, that I would not be here if there was no invasion. In this regard I am like many other people identifying as Aboriginal, and that includes those who claim that they suffer on 26 January each year – we are the product of both Aboriginal and other ancestry.
I won’t be suffering or mourning on Australia Day, but there are some who claim it is a painful day for them. For those who choose mourne, I respect your right to do so. The choice is on the basis that the celebrations are for theft, rape, murder, and genocide. They may be emotive words, but I do not know of one person who celebrates any of those things on 26 January.
The suffering and mourning helps nobody. I agree with Western Australia’s first Aboriginal magistrate Sue Gordon that Aboriginal people face far more important issues than changing the date of Australia Day. We have another Closing the Gap report coming up, and we don’t need a crystal ball to tell us that it will show Aboriginal people still lagging far behind on most indicators of health and well-being. Changing the date of Australia Day is not going to make any difference to future reports. In fact all protests and campaigns to change the date serve only to distract us from focusing on strategies that can make a real difference.
But it is not just Aboriginal people who have been protesting. Many non-Aboriginal Australians have jumped on the change-the-date bandwagon. But why? Simply, I believe, because they may feel useless (perhaps even guilty?) when they compare their good lives with those of the Aboriginal people who are most disadvantaged. They have a desire to do something to help, but often circumstances and opportunity don’t allow them to. They feel the need to at least be seen to be doing something. Advocating for a date change is the ‘perfect break’, as so many have told them that it’s the ‘right thing to do’.
Those wanting the date changed tell me “It can’t do any harm, so just change it.” I oppose changing the date, not because I believe it is special and worth clinging to, but because I think changing it sends a very disempowering message to those who claim they are suffering because of it. To claim to be suffering in any way on 26 January because Australia Day celebrations are taking place, is to claim that your emotional well-being is under the control of those who celebrate on that day. In a sense that makes the mourners little ‘Australia-Day’ puppets whose emotional strings are being pulled by those celebrating Australia Day. To change the date will validate the myth that their chosen suffering is caused by celebrating 26 January. Those claiming to be suffering will think “Well my suffering must be real or else the government would not have changed the date.”
The belief that a date change will bring happiness or even ‘healing’ is similar to those Aboriginal people who believed that their healing could only take place after Kevin Rudd made the public apology. I am not necessarily saying that the apology was wrong, but only that it was wrong to believe that it would bring healing. Any assumed emotional or spiritual wounds people claim to have due to past injustices, either to them personally or their ancestors, will not be magically healed by an apology. Real healing comes from forgiveness. Anything less is like putting a band-aid on cancer. So it is for those claiming to be suffering on Australia Day. If you want healing from the emotional wounds or scars that you believe have resulted from British invasion, then try forgiveness. Even though the invaders and those who caused mayhem in their wake may be long dead, forgiveness will do you a whole lot more good than protesting, or expressing hate and anger towards those who don’t want the date changed, or ritual Australia Day mourning.
So for those who want to mourn on 26 January, I do wish you well. But please, on that day, take some time out to spare a thought for those Aboriginal people who are genuinely suffering because they are hungry, live in unclean environments, share a mattress with three others, or even more, and two dogs, and are so used to violence that they no longer even notice it. Many of those Aborigines have no English or other foreign ancestry, unlike most of those Aboriginal-identifying people who will be protesting and mourning. Ask yourself if your self-pity party is helping the people who are really suffering.
Australia Day is not divisive, it’s just a day. People are divisive. The choice is yours: you can either mourn or celebrate. But whatever, Happy Australia Day to you mate!