We are about to celebrate Australia (or Invasion) Day and the different views about whether it is an appropriate date will be aired again.
While there will be many variations in terms of what is said, an important issue is the relevance of this particular date to all Australians.
In 1967, a referendum was conducted in Australia that resulted in two technical changes to the constitution;
• The recognition of Aboriginal people as Australians who should be included in the counting of people in the Commonwealth, and
• The removal of the right of States to develop laws that discriminate against Aboriginal people based on race.
The fact that the first Australians had been excluded from the Census up to this time reflected their status in white Australia.
I had experienced this at first hand during my early childhood in the south of Western Australia. My family purchased a modest sheep and wheat farm. This is a slight exaggeration, in reality it was 1300 acres of bush that my father began clearing with an axe.
When we first arrived, some of the local Aboriginals were living on our (their) land. It wasn’t long before we had them removed from the farm with the obvious focus on clearing the bush, running sheep and growing crops.
To acquire money to purchase basic necessities, many of the Aboriginal people worked for the local landed gentry. To supplement our income, my father worked as a shearer during the local shearing season.
I had the opportunity to experience at first hand the treatment of the Aboriginal people, many of whom shore with my father.
I also experienced the informal segregation on the school bus, people forced to live in isolated communities without access to running water, abject poverty and basically, all aspects of separation and discrimination in the society within which I lived.
With this type of history in mind, it is worth reflecting on what the Australia Day date means to a significant number of the first Australians.
There is no doubt that the colonisation of this country involved the subjugation of the people who were already established here and had been so for thousands of years.
The commencement of British rule and the development of a society and culture that enabled this to happen was accompanied by acts of genocide, the confiscation of land and for many, the denial of Aboriginal people’s value as human beings.
As highlighted above, first Australians only gained the formal right to be recognised as people in 1967.
It is not uncommon for non-Aboriginal Australians to say it is time the first Australians “got over it”.
Apart from the fact that this ignores what has happened in terms of socially marginalising these people, history demonstrates again and again, people don’t forget the injustices that have occurred.
It is unrealistic to overlook the fact that the first Australians had a wide range of established cultures and ways of life that were ignored, demeaned and in many cases violated.
There is a decision that we all have to make. The basis of this decision is whether we respect and value the first Australians as a part of this wonderful country and want all people to be included in celebrating our history and continuing to build a unified and unifying environment going forward.
If we do, then we have to address any existing prejudices we may have and seriously consider the views of the Aboriginal community on significant national issues. This includes the issue of celebrating Australia Day on a date, that amongst other things, represents the commencement of colonisation and subjugation of the people who already inhabited this country.
Peter Allitt, Cape Paterson.