Three ways you can be respectful around January 26 this year

January 26 marks the date the men of the First Fleet raised the Union Jack on Australian shores and is a public holiday across the country. But for Indigenous people, it remains a day of mourning. Here's what you can do to be an ally this year.

Laura Thompson wears a T-shirt with 'not a date to celebrate' written across it.

Gunditjmara woman Laura Thompson says the first step in allyship is letting people know where you stand. Source: SBS News/Michael Holmes

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains an image of a now-deceased person.

1. Learn about Australia's Indigenous history

Making an effort to understand Indigenous history is the first step to being an ally, says palawa woman Nala Mansell from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.

“January 26 marks the beginning of all these massacres and the destruction of our society.” 

“People understand about the Port Arthur Massacre. They know details of that, which is 

“There is a lot of empathy around those issues, but when it comes to Aboriginal history, people just aren’t aware.

One small example is understanding where the words “always was, always will be Aboriginal land” came from.

Mr Bates stands in front of a seated crowd. In the background is a tree with 'Always Was, Always Will Be' painted on it.
The late Uncle William Bates talks to a group of people at the Weinteriga Station, after it was purchased by the Traditional Owners in 1985. Source: Australian Museum

The phrase will be heard across Australia in the run-up to January 26 - and while it may not ring as loudly as it did in previous years with many marches scaled back due to the COVID-19 pandemic - it will still ring true.

It comes from the 1980s land rights movement in far-western New South Wales, or Barkindji Country, from Barkindji man Uncle William Bates. He led the campaign that saw the first national park in New South Wales returned to Traditional Owners.

“On one of the many trips out on Country during this land rights campaign, Uncle William’s father, Uncle Jim Bates, became excited and started telling stories of his Country and land," the Australian Museum's website reads. 

“Uncle William said, 'Dad, it’s not your land anymore, whitefellas own it,' and Uncle Jim replied, 'No, they only borrowed it; it always was, and always will be Aboriginal land.'"

The phrase became a catchcry as Uncle Willian and his allies “rallied together communities and land councils to pool funds and start buying back their traditional lands”.

Those looking to understand more about the massacres of Indigenous people in Australia can explore  made by the University of Newcastle. 

2. Listen to what Indigenous people have to say

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre will take its Invasion Day rally online for the first time this year due to COVID-19, but there is a silver lining; anyone across the country will be able to join in and listen to its speakers.

People in other states can find their nearest local event by searching for 'Invasion Day', 'Survival Day', or 'Day of Mourning' via Facebook's Events option. 

“I think that once people understand or learn more about the Aboriginal history of Tasmania they will want to see the date changed,” Ms Mansell says. 

Some COVID-safe in-person events are also planned around the country. 

In Sydney, they include a at Manly beach, while Adelaide City Mosque - the oldest standing mosque in Australia -  to highlight the relationship between pioneering Afghan cameleers and Aboriginal people.

The exterior of the Adelaide Mosque at dusk, lit up with green lights.
The Adelaide Mosque is the oldest surviving mosque in Australia, built in 1889. Source: SBS News: Peta Doherty

“The Muslim cameleers were welcomed and accommodated by the lovely First Nations people,” says Dr Asaad Hamid, the president of the Adelaide Mosque Islamic Society of South Australia.

“They provided them with family, community, wellbeing. That is a story, I believe, is not being told enough.”

“Muslim immigrants, new and emerging, now need to recognise the history. They need to know what the First Nations people did for us, how they helped us. We need to learn lessons from history.”

Everyone is welcome to attend the open day, but and COVID-safe rules apply. 

3. Support an Indigenous-led business or organisation

‘Not a date to celebrate’ are the words blazed across the chest of Gunditjmara woman Laura Thompson, the CEO of Melbourne fashion label Clothing the Gaps. The label is a social enterprise with 81 per cent of staff members identifying as Indigenous.

Ms Thompson is an advocate for ‘wearing your values’ and suggests a slogan T-shirt can help allies spark a conversation among family or friends around January 26. 

Laura Thompson wears a black t-shirt with 'not a date to celebrate' written in white across the front.
Laura Thompson is a Gunditjmara woman and the CEO of Melbourne based fashion brand Clothing the Gaps. Source: SBS News: Michael Holmes

“The first step in allyship is supporting Blak business and letting people know where you stand by wearing your values on your tee,” she says. 

“Our tees make it easier for you to spark that conversation, whether you are at a family event, or a barbeque, just wearing a T-shirt with a slogan, is an opportunity for you to have a conversation that benefits Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

“Seeing Aboriginal merchandise and messages out in the community, worn by everyone, creates a culturally safe community, in which Aboriginal people feel like we’ve got supporters,” Ms Thompson says.

But for those not comfortable wearing a slogan, she says there are many other Indigenous owned and operated businesses around Australia that she encourages people to seek out and support.

And, she says, true allyship is about more than a one-off purchase.

“Beyond Jan 26 there is so much that allies can do to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. That includes acknowledging your own privilege, re-educating yourself, and thinking about how you can dismantle the systems of oppression.”

Note: palawa, in reference to palawa woman Nala Mansell is written in lowercase as the Tasmanian Aboriginal language palawa kani uses only lowercase letters.

Each year ahead of January 26,  presents a selection of dedicated programming, special events and news highlights with a focus on encouraging greater understanding of Indigenous Australian perspectives. Join the conversation #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe

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5 min read
Published 24 January 2022 at 1:55pm
Source: SBS News