it is january 26th- “invasion” day- otherwise known as “australia” day ~the date when the nation commemorates the first arrival of “boat people” in 1788 (which is extremely ironic when seen in light of current policies around irregular asylum seekers who come on boats -but don’t get me started!). for many, it is a day of celebration. for some, it is a day of sadness/anger. for me, it is a day of confusion and general irritation. patriotism reigns supreme this day- we revel in beating our chests like cavepeople and bleating about the lucky country. yet amongst the barbeques, the australian flags, and the games of backyard cricket, there are people who come together to acknowledge and protest an aspect of this day that clearly betrays a collective denial around our participation in practices that continue to insidiously bleed Indigenous Australians. bleed them dry.
at 11 a.m. a large crowd congregates at the entrance to the botanical gardens, in front of parliament house in brisbane. around the country, in capital cities and elsewhere, similar crowds are forming with the same intent.
we are here to listen and to walk, some are here to speak, to mourn. i am a privileged non-Indigenous australian and i am here to contribute the only things that i can contribute today: a set of open ears, a heart, a body that fills space and adds a number (because i know how much they like numbers), the sound of one more line of footsteps echoing against asphalt, and a voice……..we come together in what was once a sacred space for Indigenous women’s business, but which has now been transformed into a place of non-Indigenous men’s business. ignorant and cowardly men (and women) who do not want to publicly recognise facts. where are they today? listening to the speakers i feel that anyone who solely focuses their energy today on revelling simplistically in the rags to riches settler/colonial narrative that we are all supposed to be so proud of, is at least guilty of ignorance, and probably more…………
….i can hear their voices now, blending together to form a stinky discourse…..protesting on australia day? what is this wet-blanketry? Indigenous Australians just need to get over it, WE all just need to get over it. all the people who made those decisions are long gone now. THEY were the colonisers…not ME. it has nothing to do with ME. it’s not MY fault. why should I feel guilty? why do YOU make ME feel guilty? I am not racist, I don’t think Aboriginal people should be treated any differently to anyone else. see this flag? i wear it plastered all over my body because i am proud of what we are.
well, my ignorant little (com)patriots, some facts cannot be ignored.
fact #1: a long, long time ago, some british people arrived on boats and carried out an invasion. they did not see it as an invasion because this land had been declared terra nullius- “the land belonging to no-one” ~a convenient aspect of international law for anyone interested in undertaking a colonial project. the australian penal colony came about because of other failed projects in places like africa (see emma christopher’s “a merciless place”). the thinking was basically, “lets take this assortment of what we classify as being human waste and dump it on the other side of the world”. this was the beginning of this great nation. fact #2: for tens of thousands of years (at least), Indigenous Australians have lived on this land. taken care of this land. terra nullius is a joke. what they had and did isn’t/wasn’t “nothing”, they aren’t/weren’t “no-one”. much of what was, has now disappeared~ and there is now a very real struggle to revive cultures and languages that are in danger of extinction. that is extremely serious business. fact #3: there was never a treaty or an agreement. nobody agreed. fact #4: the agenda was extermination, and in my opinion, it still is.
(com)patriots, imagine now that some extra-terrestrials come down in their space ships, just like in the movies, and try to exterminate us. colonise us. squash us. assimilate us into their alien ways? and there is some universal law that everyone except us knows about called “planetus nullius”. god knows that enough hollywood movies have been dedicated to this theme, so it shouldn’t be too hard for you to imagine, right?
in front of parliament house, speakers line up to take the microphone and one after another, stories are told. feelings are shared. anger emerges through words and fists, amplified and then cleansed by the constant smoke from burning sage and wood. i am disconnected from this in almost every way but one: how would i feel? my attempt to answer this question to myself is clumsy at best because my sense of connection to country is tenuous, and my family originally came from somewhere else (also on a boat). as i listen to the speakers i wonder how we can collectively keep our heads in the sand on this issue? everything that this country is now, was built on those first moments of contact in 1788. we think the colonising project has been and gone, but it is still here. the existence of australia day demonstrates it. the fact that there are protests around the country demonstrate it. how can we just go about our business and pretend that it is all just in the past, when for an important number of our population, it is not the past, it is still the present……….if only we could really hear the stories of stolen people, murdered people, displaced people. they are stories of survival. if only we could really see the blood on the earth under our feet…………..and so we walk from the botanical gardens to musgrave park. i experience it as a solemn event. the whole way i am reflecting on how much i love australia. this is an astounding, savagely beautiful land. but walking on this day reminds me of just how parochial and cowardly this “nation” can be.
(com)patriots, let me put it to you this way: if i stood up on another hallowed australian day, ANZAC day, and said, “listen, i know that all those soldiers died in wars, and that because of them i am now able to enjoy the freedoms that i do- but can we PLEASE JUST GET OVER IT? you see, i don’t want to remember that blood and that pain. it makes me feel uncomfortable. those people marching, they just depress me. why? because wars are stupid. i find it difficult to respect any day that glorifies war. are you listening those of you responsible for glorifying ben roberts-smith? i know he killed people in afghanistan and he watched his mates die, and because of this he is a hero, but he wasn’t representing me when he did that. i did not ask him to do that. all i see when i think about ANZAC day is an attempt to apply the defibrillator to a dying and very misguided source of national pride, one that is underpinned by success in violence”. or, perhaps this, “look, i’m sorry that your great grandad/grandad/father/brother/uncle/lover got blown up somewhere overseas, but surely we should JUST MOVE ON?”. i would never say these things. i don’t know anyone who would. as much as i think war is a fool’s game, i accept the value of the sacrifice that was made, and the spirit in which it was made, and the ways that i/we have benefitted. i am sad for people who lost family in wars and i think it is fair enough that some people feel they need to celebrate ANZAC day in this way. ANZAC day is a day that begins with solemn mourning for those who died, becoming a celebration of what has come as a result. is it that much of a stretch for us to view australia day in the same light? didn’t Indigenous Australian (warriors) die? has there not been a terrible sacrifice of life for us to enjoy what this country is now? should we not recognise this fact? would this not be a more honest way of acknowledging this day? i wonder what would happen in people’s minds should this discourse become normalised. but we won’t go there because like cowards we are collectively afraid of facing up to what happened and what continues to happen.
like the good humans we are, brainwashed by neoliberalism, we are afraid of losing sovereignty and control~ ownership of the thing that cannot be owned, only TAKEN CARE OF. but to my mind, if anyone is going to own anything here, Indigenous people have a greater claim than i do, that is for sure. Indigenous women and men are the caretakers of this land. many of them are doing the work that the rest of us do not have the wisdom or the courage to undertake. they are up against mining companies and the like, taking a stand. their work is an ancient directive- take care of the land. and it should be the same everywhere on this planet! humans need to live in a sustainable way. progress does not have to equal mining or the exploitation of resources (human and otherwise), but progress has to equal sustainability. short-sightedly not focusing on sustainability beyond the three year election cycle will ultimately result in a failure to progress, that is, to survive.
this is far more complex (obviously) than what can be discussed here or in a thousand conversations, and as i write this i feel embarrassment at my own simple-minded thinking on this issue. the thing is, i cannot help but come back to one point, one belief. karma. and if that is too esoteric for you, then how about newton’s law – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. my heart tells me “sorry” is not good enough. australia must be honourable and put its’ money where its’ mouth is and have the courage to begin by acknowledging that if we are going to talk about sovereignty, we need to face up to where it really lies. until that day comes, i will continue to be embarrassed and pissed off at the hypocrisy of what they call “australia day”: the flag, the barbecues, the rhetoric, the whole fucking lot-of-it.