• Wiradjuri man, Jake Gablonski in his hometown Katherine (NITV News)Source: NITV News
How Jake Gablonski made being a #ChangeTheDate advocate and an official Australia Day ambassador work.
By
Jake Gablonski

25 Jan 2018 - 1:31 PM  UPDATED 25 Jan 2018 - 1:31 PM

While supporters of the #ChangeTheDate movement would like to think of themselves as always turning a back to Australia Day, the reality is that many of us actually haven’t. Lots of our mob have participated in the 26 January tradition at some point, and that’s okay. In fact, it's important. Especially if we talk about it.

Yes, I admit. I was someone - a blackfulla - who once celebrated Australia Day. Throughout my childhood and even into my late teenage years, I was running amuck at community events and concerts that painted the day (in my mind to) be cheerful, to just having an excuse to have some drinks with friends.

I will take responsibility for that and now, apologise to my community and my ancestors for doing so. Because if I had known what the day had meant for the generations that came before, I never would have celebrated.

I will take responsibility for that and now, apologise to my community and my ancestors for doing so. Because if I had known what the day had meant for the generations that came before, I never would have celebrated.

 

I'm a product of our Australian society. And as such, I’m embarrassed that my education (or lack thereof) lead me to believe that the British were the first to colonise the Australian shores. That includes embarrassment for our educational and political systems that disconnected me from a cultural connection with the myths and neglect of those horrific events that occurred from 26 January.

But since I've grown and come to learn more about Australia's history, I feel much stronger and more empowered to advocate in hope that our country will change to do what is right.

I am a proud Aboriginal man, but also have a European background - my surname, 'Gablonski' being a key giveaway. And I am also very proud of that side of my story too. My father is of Polish descent, and while his heritage is far removed from Aboriginal Australia, he is very understanding and considerate of the circumstances surrounding our ancestors that occurred from 26 January onwards. It's humbling to see non-Indigenous people take this stance, and I feel very lucky that it's my own father's position.    

I don’t dislike anyone who does celebrate the day itself in their own way, because I strongly advocate that there should be a day to encourage and celebrate the coming together. Mateship and inclusiveness for our country, because we live in such a diverse and multicultural nation. We see our “leaders” exclaiming that the Australian spirit is about giving every Australian a “fair go”. Whilst I believe in the sentiment that a fair go is a fundamental part of our freedom and spirit, in reality, we are yet to see that achieved for everyone in our somewhat progressive country.

I don’t dislike anyone who does celebrate the day itself in their own way, because I strongly advocate that there should be a day to encourage and celebrate the coming together.

To get to that goal, it would mean more than a change in date. I asked myself whether I would celebrate Australia Day when the date is changed. Could I again, run amuck at concerts and enjoy drinks with friends, knowing what I do now? I sat and thought about it for a little while, and sadly, the answer was "no". Changing the date isn’t enough. 26 January was first celebrated many years ago as a marking of the arrival of the British, but over time it has expanded into a day that is perceived by many as celebrating all things 'Australian'.

For our nation to respectfully and honestly have a day to celebrate everyone, we need to not only change the date, but also the name. “Australia Day” will always be affiliated with the 26 January. The date of the arrival of the British which in turn would still be a celebration of invasion, torture, exclusion and many years of misleading education and lack of morality from our leaders. It would still wave Union Jack adorned flags and spin myths of the "fair go". It would be a hangover of First Fleet re-enactments, million dollar funded Bicentennial celebrations and monarch visits. It needs to be re-created to be a symbolic day that educates, acknowledges and reflects on previous imperfections, and renews our commitment to coming together to support one another on those tough dates, and be given a title reflects these things.

In January 2017, I was invited back to my hometown of Katherine, NT. I was invited to address the community as the Northern Territory Australia Day Ambassador and I would be the first Indigenous ambassador for the day in Katherine’s history. It took me a while to decide if I was going to take the opportunity, given that this was my chance to address the community I love.

Meet Katherine's First Indigenous Australia Day Ambassador
Wiradjuri man and Indigenous Australia Day ambassador, Jake Gablonski is proving to be a strong voice for equality in Australia as he speaks about making a positive difference for troubled youth in the NT.

It took it. One might think it was wrong decision as the role of an ambassador is a position of influence, but I wanted the chance for me to publicly express what that day meant looking forward. It put me in an anxious position, being in front of my community, but I took it as an opportunity to acknowledge the history of 26 January as well as talk about my work and projects since relocating from the rural town. This included a focus on my involvement with suicide-prevention and mental health awareness. 

The biggest part of making that address though, was not to encourage the celebratory nature that many perceive Australia Day to be about, but so that our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community was represented - our stories, our history. I wanted to make sure we were heard on that day too. Through the whole experience, what meant the most was the positive support and continuous guidance I got from both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities on the day. It was a wonderful opportunity to remind young and old members of my home town of how far we’ve come, yet how far we’ve still got to go.

Going forward, its time. Time to be honest with ourselves by embracing that some of us have celebrated on 26 January and how we have learnt from that. We have to look at how our own personal journeys - from participating in 26 January events, to having grown out of them - can be replicated in on a national scale. If so many of us can shake the British settlement off our national pride, then so to can the country transition from running amuck to being one that cares about truth-telling, inclusivity and having a culturally-diversity community.    

Jake is a Wiradjuri man who grew up in Katherine. He is a social influencer and mental health awareness ambassador. Follow Jake @jakej_g


 

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