Not all in our community will feel like a party on Australia Day.
ON January 26, there’ll be parties, flashing lights, fireworks — sounds like a Victoria Police drink-driving advertisement.
Australia Day activities — Geelong has plenty — typically brim with a strong celebratory spirit.
But not all in our community will feel like a party. Reflect for a moment on our post-1788 history and you’ll understand why.
Captain Philip and the First Fleet are deeply etched in our nation’s story. Much of our national character has been attributed to our early convict roots.
Establishing a penal colony in a distant land, about as far away as you could get from the mother country, must have been a rather appealing prospect to 18th century British parliamentarians.
After all, why spend all those pounds sterling supporting Captain Cook and his merry band of explorers if you couldn’t do something sterling with the lands they discovered.
However, those same explorers and parliamentarians inflicted one of the worst acts of disrespect possible to an indigenous people — they essentially denied their existence. Whether this was unwitting or simply convenient is much debated.
The declaration that the land Cook claimed for England was ‘terra nullius’ — land belonging to no one — was the fundamental cause of the dislocation Aboriginal people have experienced from the very start of European occupation.
For most colonial powers of that era, there was scant appreciation of indigenous peoples or cultures. In the case of Australia, denying the traditional occupants connection to the land was the ultimate insult, later institutionalised in our constitution, which even denied Aboriginal people the right to vote.
The rest is history. Despite some well-meaning but often misguided efforts, that story is mostly very sad, often tragic and not one we can be proud of.
It took the decade-long Mabo High Court case for terra nullius to be overturned in 1992. That decision confirmed native title at common law did exist based on the traditional connection to and occupation of the land.
While this decision was historic, many terra nullius implications still have a sadly long, destructive tail, with too many areas of social and economic inequity remaining.
Is it any wonder then that many Aboriginal people cannot accept January 26 as a celebration although many graciously engage in activities.
Reconciliation must remain a priority for our nation.
The Parliament’s Stolen Generations apology in 2008 was a huge step forward but only a one of many still needed.
Noel Pearson wrote these powerful words in his 2014 essay A Rightful Place:
“As long as we have a constitution that characterises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the basis of race, it will always have deleterious implications for their citizenship.
It must be removed. The day we come to regard ourselves as people with a distinct heritage, with distinct cultures and languages but not of a distinct race, will be a day of psychological liberation. And it will also be liberating for those in the wider community.”
All Australians love and celebrate our country — there is no better place in the world to come home to.
That said, our national identity needs a mature appreciation of where we have come. Committing to build better understanding of our indigenous heritage is a worthy test of our national character.
Taking up opportunities to learn more offered by the Wathaurong Community or the Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre are among local, practical things we in Geelong can do.
Celebrating Australia should not be confined to January 26 but rather be an ongoing state of mind.