• Aboriginal rights activist Aretha Brown says Australia Day should be moved to a date that is inclusive of the entire nation. (Facebook )
The media has recently been flooded with both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people pushing for Australia Day to be moved away from January 26, but not all Indigenous people agree with this view.
Brooke Fryer

26 Jan 2019 - 12:58 PM  UPDATED 26 Jan 2019 - 1:02 PM

Opinions continue to differ over the issue of celebrating the national day on January 26. One young Aboriginal activist says Australia Day should be moved, but understands why many other Indigenous people insist the current date should remain.

Eighteen-year-old Aretha Brown is a proud Gumbaynggirr woman from the mid north coast of New South Wales who sees three sides to the January 26 debate.

“For me the day is rounded into three main groups," she told NITV News. "There’s mob that want to keep the day, but change its inherent meaning.

“There’s mob that wants to change the day and make it a day that’s more inclusive for everyone…

"And then there’s the radical mob that want to abolish it completely.”

But Ms Brown said her personal position isn't guided by the flood of opinions on social media, and she completely understands why some Aboriginal people argue that the date stay the same. 

“My nan actually wants to keep the day… she’s the person that has been the most affected by all this kind of stuff, and I think for her, she wanted to hold onto the Australia she knew and loved.

“I suppose [some] Indigenous mob would probably want to keep the day because it’s still celebrating Australia and it’s still celebrating the country we all love.

“[But] she wants to change the inherent meaning... It has to be in a way that is real and impactful.”

Ms Brown said she thinks the date should be changed to a day that is more inclusive of the entire nation.

“I think abolishing the day is so radical and I respect all the mob that want to do that… changing the date to a day that includes everyone just makes sense to me,” she said.  

“To be the only commonwealth country that celebrates the actual invasion, that’s pretty weird.”

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Ms Brown first gained attention when she spoke at the 2017 Invasion Day rally in Melbourne. She acknowledged Aboriginal youth in her speech and highlighted how young people are the upcoming story-tellers keeping Aboriginal culture alive.

“I’ve always been interested in politics, but to get up that day I guess I kind of did it because someone like my grandma would never have been allowed to do it,” she said.

“To get up and speak to a crowd of people like that, I did it for her.”

Ms Brown said she wants to use her activism to be the voice between the Aboriginal and the non-Aboriginal community. 

"There's some non-Indigenous mob that don't even know what treaty means or don't even know what invasion day means," Ms Brown said. 

"The incredible thing about young people is that we can talk to other young people in a way that we can understand.

"It's taking, reading the essays and going through all the kind of big stuff and really breaking it down, and if I can do that in a way that people can understand, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, I think that would be incredible." 

Creative Influences 

Ms Brown said she was born into a family of political consciousness and creative thinking in Melbourne.

Her mother, Donna Brown, is a proud Gumbaynggirr woman and a renowned artist while her father, Paulie Stewart, was the frontman for seminal Australian punk-rock band, Painters and Dockers.  

“Both my parents raised me to always be very proud of my culture and to always speak up… I guess they always encouraged me to find creative outlets to talk about my activism and my heritage and my identity,” she said.

An aspiring artist with a passion for radio, Ms Brown was inspired to start her own podcast series – The Aretha Brown Show – by her late uncle, Tony Stewart.

Tony Stewart was one of the Balibo Five news-workers killed by Indonesian special forces soldiers in the lead up to their invasion of East Timor in 1975. 

“Another reason why I started my podcast was because I was so interested in Journalism myself and recording mobs' stories and getting all the audio down,” Ms Brown said.

“That’s what he did, he was a cameraman and audio guy… and I guess that does inspire me when I go recording for my podcast.”

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Before Activism

Ms Brown moved to Nambucca Heads on the NSW mid north coast with her mother as an infant and spent time surrounded by her mob.   

By grade eight, she had moved back to Melbourne to be with her father and to attend a school with a stronger curriculum base.

“I guess it was the most drastic kind of change you know, I went from this little small community where being Indigenous I was a majority in high school, to suddenly being a really small minority and that obviously did affect me a little,” Ms Brown said.

She said that living with her dad and attending school in Melbourne exposed her to greater resources and learning opportunities, but in other ways she missed out on cultural education.

“At school [in Melbourne] I had better teachers but I didn’t get that kind of cultural beloving that I yearned for,” Ms Brown said.

“But when I was living with my mum I was up in the community… In terms of being around the mob and on Country you can’t ever replicate that.”

After the move to Melbourne, Ms Brown was exposed to racism in school for the first time. She said the class attendance role would come up on the board, and next to her name would be an Aboriginal flag.

“And the only other kids in school that had to get a flag next to their name was the ones that were like anaphylactic and needed a registered epi-pen … just little things like that.”

One of Ms Brown’s latest incidences of racism was during her final weeks of year 12.

“I had at one point some kids break into the school and they kicked in some of my artworks, and that was some of the final weeks of year 12 and that was just the hardest one.”

“When it first happened I was a little bit in shock. I didn’t really know what to do and I didn’t really think about it until one day I was walking down the street and I just cried.”

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