26th January: A Day of Reflection
On 26th January 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip raised the Union Jack and proclaimed British sovereignty over the eastern part of the Australian continent. What historically started as a day to celebrate the founding of the British colony of New South Wales, January 26th has now become a day when most Australians celebrate national identity and unity. However, First Nations peoples perceive this celebration to be analogous to celebrating colonialism. First Nations peoples regard the 26th of January as Invasion Day, a Day of Mourning or Survival Day.
Most Australians prefer to celebrate Australia Day on 26th January but an increasing number consider such celebrations to be offensive to First Nations peoples.
Australia Day celebrations are anchored in celebrating the British heritage of our nation, as well as celebrating our democracy and government and the contribution of Australians to the nation. Unfortunately, many of us lack the understanding that celebrating on 26thJanuary is also perceived as celebrating colonialism. This is because we have been schooled by colonial narratives and erroneous discourses about First Nations peoples that originate from 1788. Such narratives and discourses have reassured Australians that the country was legally and peacefully settled, that Australian history is overwhelmingly positive and that we are not responsible for injustices committed against First Nations peoples.
If we choose to celebrate Australia Day on 26thJanuary, then we as a nation must accept responsibility for the hurt and distress to First Nations peoples and make amends for our actions. Further, we must take responsibility for owning and fully understanding our thinking, which dismisses First Nation voices, not only regarding the inappropriateness of celebrating on 26thJanuary but also regarding the continuing impacts of colonisation on First Nations peoples.
If Australians are to walk in solidarity with First Nations peoples, we must first understand ourselves so that we can respond with understanding and compassion. The 26th of January must become a day for reflection, compassion and liberation. We must step back, put aside our preconceived assumptions and attitudes about First Nations peoples, and self-reflect – what exactly are we celebrating? Why do we insist on celebrating Australia Day on 26th January? And what kind of messages do our celebrations send to First Nations peoples?
The 26th January is a precious opportunity to think about how we can liberate ourselves from the yoke of colonialism and make the nation more inclusive of First Nations peoples, as well as others who have come to this country, particularly asylum seekers and refugees.
This statement was written by Dr. Darryl Cronin, Coordinator of The Edmund Rice Centre First Nations Program and a proud Marramaninjsji man .