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Victoria's peak Aboriginal health body encourages community to look after each other on January 26

Giovanni Torre -

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation is encouraging Aboriginal communities to connect with family and friends, and look out for one another's health and wellbeing ahead of January 26.

The Organisation (VACCHO) noted on Thursday that for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, January 26 is "a day of profound pain", but also "a day to reflect on the unyielding resilience, determination, and strength of Aboriginal Communities".

"January 26 signifies a brutal and rapid colonisation, bringing with it massacres, the theft of children from families, contributing to Communities enduring grossly inadequate health and wellbeing outcomes," VACCHO said in a statement.

The health peak body noted that in 2024, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities continue to suffer, experiencing disproportionately poorer health compared to non-Indigenous people.

The 2023 Closing The Gap Annual Data Report found an increase in suicides, more children being taken from families and put into out of home care, a rise in adult incarcerations, and deteriorating outcomes in early childhood development.

VACCHO said the past six months have been "particularly challenging" for Aboriginal communities in Victoria, many of whom are "grappling with the health and wellbeing impacts of shameful instances of racism and abuse prevalent throughout the lead-up and aftermath of the October 14 referendum".

VACCHO expressed "deep disappointment" that January 26 remains a formal day of celebration for Australia, and commended the leadership of the fifteen Victorian councils (and eighty across the country) that have chosen to cease holding citizenship ceremonies on January 26.

VACCHO chief executive Jill Gallagher AO said January 26 is an important opportunity to mourn, heal, and learn about the true history of this country.

"January 26 is a complex, challenging, and traumatic day for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people," she said.

"At its core, the January 26 Australia Day holiday celebrates colonisation and the genocide of our families and ancestors. From my perspective, it symbolises the beginning of the Frontier Wars and horrific events that changed the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for the worse.

"For me, January 26 is a painful reminder of children being taken from their parents and families and the many, many inequalities Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience today: a major gap in life expectancy and disproportionate health disadvantages that hinder our way of life.

"As a proud Aboriginal woman, I want nothing more than to celebrate this country with all Australians – but I cannot do that on January 26. January 26 hurts – and it hurts for most Aboriginal people."

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