On 26 January 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip raised the flag of Great Britain and proclaimed a colonial outpost at Warrane (Sydney Cove), on the sovereign lands of the Eora Nation. This act commenced the invasion by British colonisers of lands already owned across the continent. A continent that was home to over 250 individual, sovereign nations, 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 at least until the Coniston massacre in 1928 (arguably even later). 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.
After all it was not until 1935 that all Australian States adopted the term Australian Day, it has only been celebrated officially as a national public holiday since 1994, and numerous other dates have been celebrated in the past.
For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the date is a reminder of the pain and suffering of their ancestors, the invasion of their lands and enormous loss of life in the Frontier Wars, the massacres, and the intergenerational trauma that comes with that history.
And yet, resistance, resilience, and survival, have been hallmarks of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lived reality every day since invasion. See the Resources below for more.
Why should we rethink the date of our National Holiday?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and many non-Indigenous Australians believe that 26 January cannot be a day of national unity given that it marks the date of invasion and the start of dispossession.
Celebrating on this day ignores the truths of our shared history and is akin to asking First Nations people to celebrate the autrocities committed against them. At the heart of reconciliation is an acceptance of the history of past grave injustices towards 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. We must accept the historical truths of past injustices to First Nations people, and an important step in this journey of acceptance, truth-telling, and healing, will be to change the date of our national day.
Changing the date of our national day would be a definitive act of healing. Rather than unifying Australians, the celebration of January 26 alienates our First Peoples. We can and must do better.
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 past injustices, their ongoing survival and struggles, and pride in culture.
First Nations Peoples make personal choices about the way in which they choose to mark and think about the day.
‘Survival Day’ emphasises the survival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture in the face of colonisation, dispossession, and ongoing inequality. It reflects on the resilience and endurance of First Nations people, whose cultures are one of the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
‘Invasion Day’ emphasises the British invasion and occupation of First People’s land and the ongoing struggle for self-determination and social justice.
- First reconciliation, then a republic — starting with changing the date of Australia Day, Maggie Walter, https://theconversation.com/first-reconciliation-then-a-republic-starting-with-changing-the-date-of-australia-day-89955
- Toxicity swirls around January 26, but we can change the nation with a Voice to Parliament, Megan Davis, https://theconversation.com/toxicity-swirls-around-january-26-but-we-can-change-the-nation-with-a-voice-to-parliament-153623
- If your child asks why Australia is celebrating a day of invasion, what will you tell them? Amy McGuire, https://indigenousx.com.au/if-your-child-asks-why-australia-is-celebrating-a-day-of-invasion-what-will-you-tell-them/
- Aboriginal People Respond to Australia Day, As/Is, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8czHlPYXew
- Invasion Day, Truth Telling, and Australia’s History, Q&A, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrTFdUa3S9w
- Monologue from City of Gold, Meyne Wyatt, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ys2FTUmOnIg