The way nations’ remember is no accident - even more so for a settler-colonial society like Australia. It serves the settler in this country to deny that it’s foundations are genocide and dispossession. It serves the settler to deny that it is the beneficiary of such genocide and dispossession. It serves the settler to believe it is the self-made country. Our existence as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is, as John Howard referred to, a “blemish” in the history they tell themselves.
For a country trying to convince itself, a day like Australia Day makes sense, it is nothing more than a nationalist circle jerk.
"The irony of a countdown on Australia Day being stolen from another radio station is not lost on me."
It wasn’t even made a public holiday until 1994 by Paul Keating. The day itself marks the day that Captain Arthur Phillips (who later became Governor) arrived with the First Fleet and raised the British flag at Sydney Cove. The day has been called other things; ‘Foundation Day’, and ‘Anniversary Day’, for example. But John Howard ramped it up by telling people to “Show The Flag on Australia Day” during his time in Government. This was coupled with other ‘slogans’ like, “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”, when referring to asylum seekers, and “the 'black armband' view of our history reflects a belief that most Australian history since 1788 has been little more than a disgraceful story of imperialism, exploitation, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.
“I take a very different view. I believe that the balance sheet of our history is one of heroic achievement and that we have achieved much more as a nation of which we can be proud of than which we should be ashamed,” Howard said. I guess that makes First Nations’ people the original collateral damage.
"A nation built on genocide and celebrating its origins probably can’t help but dance on a grave anyway."
Triple j started a countdown in late 1988. Coincidentally, this was the same year as the Bicentenary, a year when the whole country marked Australia Day for the first time, with celebrations of the First Fleet landing in Sydney. Prior to that, each state and territory had it’s own day that it’s respective colonies formed. The countdown itself was an idea stolen from Brisbane community radio station 4zzz. The irony of a countdown on Australia Day being stolen from another radio station is not lost on me.
The Hottest 100 has a special place in the heart of particular people in the nation. These are people who don’t necessarily feel passionate enough about the country to go to a parade, but also don’t feel passionate enough about black people in this country to join in on Invasion or Survival Day activities. For some, it is how they celebrate Australia Day, and for others it is how they avoid it. It is hard to participate as a black person. It feels like dancing on people’s graves. But a nation built on genocide and celebrating its origins probably can’t help but dance on a grave anyway.
Last week, triple j hosted a poll asking how it’s punters feel about the Hottest 100. Given their concern surrounding the insensitivity of facilitating widespread parties on a day of mourning, one would assume that the broadcaster would have made the executive decision to just change the annual event themselves. But instead, they are casting a vote out to their predominantly non-Indigenous, white audience to help shape the decision - demonstrating that popularity comes before having the courage to do the right thing.
Whether or not it the opinions given will change the day of the event, triple j has a bigger problem. Most of the voices you hear, whether in the music or the presenters, are white (there are of course exceptions - shout out to Brooke Boney who joined their team as a regular presenter earlier this year). I do, however, hope this introspection encourages them to think about who and what they play on their station. Tastes are cultivated by being exposed to different things and without giving black artists the exposure they constantly give white artists, we can’t expect the tastes of the nation to change.
It’s poll is part of a broader conversation about changing the date of Australia Day. This rhetoric misses the point. A day to celebrate Australia will always be celebrating genocide because Australia would not exist without genocide. Australia would not exist without dispossession. Australia would not exist without white supremacy. It is not the date that is the problem, it is the sentiment. The conversation should not be about changing the date so white settlers feel comfortable with national pride, the conversation should be how does this nation confront its history and realise that history is already repeating itself.
There is no real day to consider genocide in this country where the entire country is forced to participate. There is no public holiday to acknowledge black deaths and mourning. There are days like Sorry Day or the anniversary of the apology to the Stolen Generations. This is one facet of colonisation and it is one that is denied publicly and it is still occurring. Often days that are founded on protest or mourning shift overtime to a celebratory nature. This may serve some black people, but it serves all white people because the day becomes less about our anger and our hurt and more about how they can participate in a way that doesn’t make them feel guilty. This too is a form of denial and a country in denial cannot heal.
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