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January 26: Honest debate important on a day of mixed emotion

Alira Kelly and Melissa Perry -

While Australians hold many different views about January 26, for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it represents the beginning of an unlawful invasion; one which continues to impact First Nations communities.

There is no doubt we're living through a very challenging time in regards to reconciliation and recognition of the first Australians, the world's oldest continuing culture, stretching back 65,000 years.

Despite these challenges, we believe the discussions around the Voice and ongoing debate about changing the date of Australia Day, have galvanised the resolve of those of us deeply committed to continuing the reconciliation journey.

We are coming from a place of inclusiveness and equality; driven by positivity and hope, not despair and hopelessness. We will remain brave and steadfast in our advocacy for the custodians of this land we have the privilege of calling home.

At Communicare, we have introduced a new Public Holiday Substitution Policy, which allows employees to request approval to work on Australia Day (or another public holiday) and take a different day off at a later time.

It's important to allow our people to have the option of choosing what days they wish to celebrate, particularly on a day of such mixed emotion.

Reconciliation WA has developed an introduction to the Day of Mourning for individuals, organisations, and community members, to help people better understand why 'Australia Day' is difficult for many First Nations people. It provides guidance on spreading the message and actions we can all take to make our national day inclusive for all Australians.

Many Australians are unaware that 26 January was not the original date of Australia Day; that date was only celebrated in NSW up until 1935 to mark Captain Arthur Phillip raising the Union Jack flag at Sydney Cove in 1788 to acknowledge the land was now occupied as a British colony.

The first Australia Day was celebrated on 30 July 1915, and then moved to 28 July in 1916. It changed again to 26 January in 1935, but that date only became a national public holiday in 1994.

Colonisation in Australia devastated Aboriginal life and culture – families were torn apart, language and ceremony was forbidden, and foreign disease decimated communities. Traditional and sustainable agriculture was destroyed and Aboriginality in every sense was criminalised.

Cycles of disadvantage seen today in First Nations communities can be traced to events that happened during colonisation, such is the extreme impact of trauma and dispossession. So, Australia Day for many Aboriginal people can represent a time to mourn the ravages of colonisation on their culture, lives and families.

As 26 January approaches, I encourage you all to reflect on the pain caused to Aboriginal people across the country and how celebrating on this date might be seen as offensive and culturally inappropriate.

Questioning the inclusiveness, or the date of Australia Day doesn't diminish our love or connection to this country.

Today, and on 26 January, we acknowledge and pay respect to the Aboriginal communities on whose lands and waterways we live and work, including Elders past and present, our Aboriginal colleagues, friends, and clients.

We will hear their voices, we will listen and we will act.

Alira Kelly - Director Aboriginal Strategy and Capacity Building

Melissa Perry - Chief Executive Officer


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