What’s in your backyard?

Dispossession, denial of existence and prior occupation — Australia’s history.

Australia’s sordid past of forced dispossession, massacre, violent conflict, forced assimilation, racial vilification and the attempted decimation of one of the oldest living cultures known globally understandably brings with it an emotional charge.

Yet some still wonder why the topic of ‘Australia Day’ is becoming increasingly divided.

I have heard firsthand the attempted minimisation of Australia’s colonial past. For many, ‘Australia Day’ appears to bring on a kind of cognitive dissonance unparalleled to anything I’ve seen or heard before.

I’m sure you’ve heard it too.

We didn’t actually do any of that!

We’ve struggled too?

Stop holding onto the past. 

It won’t change anything.

The reality is, Australia’s forced colonisation, prior assimilation policies and systemic racism are still vilifying our people today. And ‘Australia Day’ happens to mark the very beginning of this violent conflict with colonisers.

Here is a bit of timeline to give you some perspective.

1967 – An Australian Referendum was held to finally include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into the Australian Constitution.

1971 – The Australian Government formally recognised First Nations Australians had prior claim to the land before the British Crown in 1770 in the landmark Gove land rights case.

This watershed moment acknowledged that First Nations peoples had historically been denied their land, paving the way for Eddie Mabo in the early 1990s.

Although the push-back from this came predominantly from the pastoralist and mining industries, Rio Tinto were the first large mining company to accept and acknowledge Native Title and work positively with Traditional Owners.

1988 – Prime Minister Bob Hawke was presented with the Barunga Statement — a petition calling for a negotiated Treaty with Aboriginal people. No Treaty resulted.

2017 – The Uluru Statement from the Heart was drafted. It was a call to action to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten to have First Nations Voices in the Australian Constitution. The Statement was rejected by Turnbull.

So how much has really changed in 50 years when we look at the ongoing impact of colonialism?

And what does all of this have to do with ‘Australia Day’?

Colonialism continues to impact our people and, without question, the attitudes, values and beliefs of earlier times continue to echo throughout Australia’s psyche.

This is reaffirmed by the established fact that ‘systematic racism’ is a known determinant of the inequity prevailing today.

First Nations children are still being removed from family, suicide rates remain exponentially higher, and our culture continues to be disrespected.

In fact, it was only recently our Government extended the Cashless Debit Card (CDC) trials for another two years, which is proven to disproportionately affect First Nations Australians.

The racially divisive Pauline Hanson said at the time that CDC welfare recipients have lost the right to spend their money as they wish; as if controlling up to 80 per cent of people’s welfare payments is the democratic thing to do.

Are we really going to try and pretend that having complete financial control over a minority group of people isn’t just a continuation of colonialist ideals?

The list goes on and on, and a lack of Treaty only serves to indicate a lack of true reconciliatory action between First Nations Australians and non-First Nations people.

The very notion of sovereignty, Reconciliation, and self-determination is undermined by celebrating ‘Australia Day’, and for me Treaty represents true action where these principles become more than just buzz words thrown around in light.

For me, using my voice on ‘Australia Day’ is about recognising the two sides to the same coin of Australia’s history; and advocating for action which seeks to recognise this.

By Rachel Stringfellow