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 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 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 history that this day represents to First Nations 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. We must accept the historical truths of past injustices to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and an important step in this journey of acceptance, truth-telling and healing will be to move 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. 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 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.