On 26 January 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip raised the flag of Great Britain and proclaimed a colonial outpost in Sydney Cove, the sovereign lands of the Eora Nation. This act commenced the invasion by British settlers of lands already owned across the continent. A continent that was home to 250+ nations of Australia’s First Peoples, inter-connected by trade, sharing knowledge, cultural values and spirituality.
The date marks the start of the Frontier Wars, a period of armed conflict between settlers and Australia’s First Peoples that lasted right up until the Coniston massacre in 1928. It was a period of dispossession, oppression, acts of violence and the spread of disease.
Since 26 January 1788, the way of life of Australia’s First Peoples has continually come under threat, and families and communities have been fighting to protect their country, people, culture and history.
Resistance, resilience and survival have been hallmarks of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander response to this invasion.
Why should we rethink the date of our National Holiday?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and many other Australians believe that 26 January cannot be a day of national unity given the significance of it to First Peoples.
Celebrating it ignores the truths of our shared history and is akin to asking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to celebrate their own invasion and dispossession. At the heart of reconciliation is an acceptance of the history of past injustices to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
We know Australia still has a long way to go to achieve reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians. The road will always be marred until as a nation we accept the historical truths of past injustices to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and this includes moving our National Day.
Changing the date would be a definitive act of healing, if as a nation we can accept it is inappropriate to celebrate national unity on date that has left long-lasting scars with Australia’s First Peoples.
What is Invasion Day and Survival Day?
On 26 January, in a tradition almost as old as Australia Day being commemorated on that date, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people hold community events and rallies reflecting on these past injustices, their ongoing survival and struggles, and maintenance of culture.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make personal choices about the way in which they choose to think about the day.
Survival Day emphasises the survival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture despite the dispossession of colonisation, ongoing discrimination and inequality experienced. It reflects on the resilience and endurance of First Peoples.
Invasion Day emphasises the British invasion and occupation of First People’s land and the ongoing struggle for self determination and social justice.