As a light-skinned Koori (indigenous Australian) I have a hell of a lot to say about Australia Day as a symbol of almost everything that is wrong with Australia.
I came across this article recently.
I absolutely love this action and someone put a lot of work into it, but I couldn’t help notice the reporting – is the reporter trying to be hilarious? I love how “Colonialism” is in quotation marks and anti-colonialist/anti-nationalist sentiments are labelled racist. Um, NO, Surely-trying-to-be-hilarious Reporter, anti-colonialist/anti-nationalist sentiments are the exact opposite of racism. Know what’s become increasingly racist? The colonialist, nationalist celebration named Australia Day. Sadly it seems they’re not trying to be funny, they cannot or will not gain a basic understanding of these ideas.
So I would like to share some of the stories that my Nana and family from Glen Innes shared with me. These experiences have impacted on me personally and are weaved into who I am. We are Wiradjuri; we are pretty nice people and softness, grace and a gentle way is held up as virtuous, we’re witty, we love the earth, we feel connected to our environment, we see all things as spiritual. These stories are normal and this is what “Australia Day” represents to my family – and the Australian government’s continually racist policies, and the wretched attitudes of the anglo-mainstream continue to demoralise and degrade us. I guess, being gentle-spirited, we were vulnerable to such aggressive tactics; we didn’t have any defense. Due to these acts of genocide our families tore one another apart; making everyone into alcoholics worked. My family internalised that message that black bodies are bodies of no value and this rhetoric became contorted into self-disgust, and planted a seed that led to most families self destructing with extreme once-were-warriors style violence.
I am the product of a marriage between a brutally violent white colonial male who married a Koori woman with the desire for a complacent wife. This is what made so many Koori vulnerable. A white husband was seen as a step up, so many of the Koori women made this choice, however the husbands they got were post-war veterans and this often translated into problems of domestic violence – fueled by liquor. Australia is hard. Life was hard. It’s not so different here. People say “oh that’s in the past” only it’s not. It’s in our present; it effects us now. The government and society dug a hole so deep that it takes 10 generations just to claw out.
These are some of the acts that caused our communities to eat themselves:
In an intentional campaign of genocide, the colonial government scum had people on horses across the entire span of Tasmania, just marching across the country and killing all the Koori people, in other areas they had legal documents that instructed new locals to feed alcohol to the native people to pacify them – on purpose – we are often diabetic and cannot metabolise sugar so become addicted to alcohol easily; we had a natural low-gi diet. Then there was the whole stealing babies nightmare and the express intention on “breeding the black” out of our families by stealing children and raising them in convent-style orphanages, then forcing girls as young as 12 year old to labour on farms as slaves (or “servants” paid such a low stipend they may as well have been slaves) where they were commonly raped or impregnated by white land owners, then those babies were taken into the same schools and returned into farms to get impregnated by more white landowners. It was a cleverly organised system, sold as “helping the natives” by introducing them to religion.
Nana grew up on a reservation. To protect the children my great grandma would tell her run and hide in the forest so they didn’t take her and make her into a slave, so that’s what they would do. Nana and the others lived in hiding so as not to be stolen from government goons.
On these reservations they randomly elected a “King” and made them wear a metal plate around their neck saying “King of the Aborigines”. Everyone had to go to the “King” if they wanted to communicate with the government representatives. If the government didn’t like what the King was doing or saying they would beat or kill them and it was an act of demoralisation. One of my relatives was the King and was shot, they still have that huge, horrific metal-plate thing thing in my family.
It is natural for human beings to want to try to escape such oppression, but for many women the “ideal outcome” of marrying a white husband did not provide the relieve from oppression that they required. To me there are a lot of feminist issues tied up in this entire conversation as well.
I get the idea of a national holiday. But Australia Day ought not be a celebration, but like Waitangi Day a sober commemoration. Australia Day has become increasingly nationalistic and we all know nationalism is unyieldingly problematic. I am unable to put it all in one blog post but here is another article which talks about the way politicians in Australia are increasingly using Australia Day to springboard their racist commentaries into the media to gain voter following and (cynical, right?) and how this has resulted in an increase in racial tensions and race-based violence. Sound familiar?
Australia is so diverse now and I’ve lived at times in the outer suburbs of Sydney going to sleep at night to gunshots and burnings in depressed melting-pot communities where tensions are high, heroin rules and you’re not safe to walk the streets during the daytime, let alone at night. People fail to make the connection; these situations are DIRECTLY RELATED to past and present government policies – and rhetoric – and the willful inaction to reduce conflict in migrant and indigenous communities. Instead many members of parliament work to inflame the situation because it serves them.
That isn’t OK. It is unethical. We need to get rid of all politicians that exploit vulnerable communities in this way both here and overseas. People who stand up on the side of oppression, and fail to understand how they contribute to these social problems have voices that have been too loud for too long, they need to be silenced and stricken from our lands so that compassion and goodness can prevail.
So this Australia Day please “commemorate”, do not “celebrate”.
Take the time to open up these dialogues and spread the word. What we want is progressive support. An interesting new friend said to me recently “This is how radical I am, I think we should just say to Maori (and Koori, and all populations torn apart by colonialist policies that still harm us even now) “What can we do to help make this better? And just keep doing that until they say “Thanks, that’s better!””. She’s so right. Only we can say when our healing is done, because these are our lives and our families.
Only it’s not actually a radical notion. It’s a real, human notion and it contains the compassion, wisdom and human understanding that is wrongfully stripped from the political climate – it requires a focus away from capitalism and the fear of “lack” being a key motivator. I could go on about how useful a universal wage would be in alleviating so many tensions organised along race-based/nationalist-based/class-based lines, but that’s for another day.
I reckon everyone could learn a lot from the Wiradjuri mob about grace, gentleness and softness.