COMMENT: Every year on the 26th of January I wonder a bit about how I am going to refer to the day, Invasion Day, Survival Day or Day of Mourning? Over the years I have referred to it as all of these, and I think the choice I make reflects a bit about the mood I am in at that time, where I am at in life, and where Australia is in general.
By
Luke Pearson

25 Jan 2017 - 12:35 PM  UPDATED 14 Jan 2019 - 12:46 PM

Each of the names captures an important part of what this date represents.

Invasion Day, for me, reflects an honest truth that needs to be expressed. It speaks of the power of protest. It speaks of a history that has never been reconciled, of justice denied. It reminds how one simple word, 'invasion', seems to bewilderingly upset those connected to the invaders more than those who descend from the invaded. It comes largely from the 1988 protests which also brought the slogan "White Australia Has A Black History" to our national consciousness. At the same time, there is a part of me that felt it gives too much energy away and not enough to ourselves. I often think about whether or not we spend too much responding to the moves of others rather than making our own, but at the same time the power of the above slogan always resonates with me and speaks to a battle that is still underway about how we relate to Australian history. I believe we still need to speak these words, and we still need people to attend these events.

Survival. It speaks to me of celebration and commemoration. It speaks of amazing resilience and resistance of cultures, communities, families and individuals. At the same time, it feels too comforting for white Australia. It does not feel ‘in their face’ enough. Perhaps this is more to do with how the name has been coopted than what it was originally intended for, I don’t know, but it has never quite sat right with me. So many lives have been needlessly lost in our history, and every day; those who didn't survive. I am not comfortable about a day that can so easily be misrepresented to gloss over this tragic reality. Still, I believe we still need to speak these words, and we still need people to attend these events.

Mourning. It speaks to commemorating and acknowledging all we have to mourn since invasion took place. Not just the loss of life, but for all of the loss of culture, loss of land, loss of language. It is one of the oldest names we have for this day, and the significance of the 1938 protests should always be remembered and commemorated. Like the other two days though I have at times felt this lacked the fire of Invasion Day, and the positive outlook of Survival Day. But I know the power and the importance of grieving for people and things lost, and I believe we still need to speak these words, and we still need people to attend these events.

It is only in recent years that I have stopped the internal debate each year about which camp I should sit in and come to realise that all three days are important, all three are still needed for different people at different times in their life. All three come are essential pieces of the whole that are needed to fully recognise the significance of this date.

There are times we need to protest. Other times we need to breathe, and to celebrate that we are still here despite the obstacles we have overcome and those we still face. And at other times we just need to mourn, and to heal.

Like many debates in our communities this is one where I believe we do not need to debate but instead we need to support each other regardless of the camp we need to sit in, and respect the reasons why we need to be there. We should be able to freely move between each and let others do the same.

There are times we need to protest. Other times we need to breathe, and to celebrate that we are still here despite the obstacles we have overcome and those we still face. And at other times we just need to mourn, and to heal. I know many people who plan to attend an Invasion Day march in the morning, attend a Survival Day concert in the morning, and then spend a reflective evening commemorating the Day of Mourning. 

I have at times heard people opposed to changing the date of Australia Day argue that doing so would be to ignore or try to erase the history of this date. I disagree. January the 26th will always be an important date in our national calendar. It will always be Invasion Day. It will always be Survival Day. It will always be a Day of Mourning. We will never forget what this day represents. The only name I think the 26th of January should not have is ‘Australia Day’. It is not a day that was ever intended for Aboriginal people to celebrate. Even as far back as 1888, when Henry Parkes was the Premier of NSW and was preparing to celebrate the 100 year anniversary, he was asked if he was planning anything for Aboriginal people on this day, to which he replied, "And remind them that we have robbed them?".

Australia Day, for me, is a day that was only ever intended to be a day for white Australians to come together to celebrate white Australia, and the recent attempts to make it a more inclusive day just feel like an effort to make it a day where all Australians regardless of their race, colour, or religion can come together to celebrate white Australia.

I am not necessarily opposed to the idea of an Australia Day that would allow us all to celebrate together, on the condition that we eventually learn to see the difference between inclusion and assimilation, but I am not entirely sure if there is a date in Australian history that could adequately encapsulate that ideal. That, to me, is the most interesting element about the whole 'change the date' conversation. Not the push to see that date changed, but the conversation about what day, if any, best encapsulates the Australia the Australia that we would like to imagine ourselves as.

Is our national identity best commemorated on the day that NSW became a British colony, or the date that Australians stopped being British subjects? Is it the day that the White Australia Policy was enacted, or is it the day it was repealed? Is it perhaps the day, if it ever comes, that we become a republic? Or is it some future day that we can't even imagine at the moment, some future event that could serve to help 'bring us together to celebrate all that is great about being Australians'?

But whether the date of Australia Day ever changes or not, the 26th of January will always be an important day. It will always be Invasion Day. It will always be Survival Day. It will always be a Day of Mourning.

So whatever you call it, whatever events you choose to go to or whether you just do your own thing, we do not need to debate what we should call this day so long as we can agree on one simple thing – Australia always was, and always will be Aboriginal land.

#AlwaysWillBe


 

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