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Happy Invasion Day

Posted on: January 25, 2011

‘Happy Invasion Day  doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it? Today is the day that Australians get together to celebrate our ‘great’ country. 26th January, 1788, is the day that the First Fleet arrived and hence, the ‘birth’ of our nation. In primary school, we are taught that Australia was settled by convicts. Settled. Sounds kinda cosy. The British found this lovely, huge piece of empty land, and they settled it. End of story.

I didn’t realise there was any more to this story until university, when I took an Aboriginal Education unit as part of my Bachelor of Education. I don’t know that many Australians actually understand that settlement is an extremely misleading term for what can only described as a war, at best, and a massacre, at worst. The settlement of Australia was a long, drawn out process and the British came up against many fierce opponents, including the Aboriginal warrior, Pemulwuy. The ‘history’ that many of us have been taught is simply wrong. Thankfully, things have changed a little since I was in primary school. The units of work document (scroll down to pages 11-14), which accompanies the current NSW Human Society and Its Environment Syllabus, includes a more-rounded version of events. It outlines the resistance put up by many Aboriginal people, and also discusses some of the consequences of the British ‘colonisation’ for the Aboriginal peoples and their cultures. It is a small step towards acknowledging some of the wrongs.

Since learning this truth, I have felt uneasy about celebrating Australia Day. Sure, I am proud to be Australian. I love living in this beautiful country with its unique wildlife. I love many things about our patchwork culture, the way we have adopted a bit of this and a bit of that. I love that we have the freedom to speak our minds without fear of persecution. I love being able to afford more than just the basics for survival (although many Australians can’t). I love our accent; the surge of pride I have felt on encountering it whilst travelling in a foreign country, almost unable to stop myself from shouting, “G’day mate!”

But, I can’t ignore the myths. The myth of terra nullius. The myth that no battles have been fought here. The myth that there is no racism. The myth that we are one. 

I also feel uncomfortable about celebrating a day that set in motion the almost-annihilation of one of the world’s oldest races of people. Killed. Enslaved. Assimilated. Stolen. There are many Australians who are in fact mourning today, not celebrating.

So, I have this dilemma. The best I can do on this day is quietly be grateful that I have been born free in this remarkable country. But I don’t think I can bring myself to fly the Australian flag. At least not until more has been done to acknowledge our terrible history, and address the myths that underpin our society.

4 Responses to "Happy Invasion Day"

Fantastic post Anna. I couldn’t agree more.

Every Australian should read “The Secret River” by Kate Grenville. Its an historical fiction novel about European settlement in the land already inhabited by the aboriginals. An eye opener but something everyone should be aware of…warning, I did have nightmares after reading this book though!

It’s so refreshing to hear someone bring this up today. Driving around today I saw so many flag wearing young men (carrying cases of beer) and was talking about what Australia Day means today. When I was young we certainly do as much flag waving as it seems is popular now, and I agree with your sentiments about it being insensitive to the first Australians. Great post.

[…] decided not to write about Australia Day this year. You can go here to read my last year’s post, my stance is still the […]

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