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As January 26 approaches and mob across the country brace themselves for Australia Day whilst gearing up for Invasion Day and Survival Day marches, NITV’s The Point is asking ‘who the bloody hell are we?’
Keira Jenkins

The Point
22 Jan 2020 - 3:44 PM  UPDATED 22 Jan 2020 - 3:44 PM

Throughout January each year Australians grapple with our identity as a nation as we try to reconcile our colonial history, our multicultural communities and of course the 60,000 years of strong Indigenous culture.

This year is no different, and The Point has gathered a panel to discuss our country's national identity and where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people fit into it.

Olympian and former Senator Nova Peris said we can’t portray Australian culture without first acknowledging Indigenous culture.

“What is Australian culture?” she said.

“Is it having a sausage, throwing a shrimp on the barbie because that’s all the songs that tell a story of this country.

“But that’s just the surface, under the surface is this rich Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and that’s what the world wants to know.”

Ms Peris said it is time for a re-education in Australia, so the nation can better understand the rich history of our country.

“This country has to start these hard discussions,” she said.

“Eddie Mabo took it to the high court - the terra nullius - so right up to 1993 this country had the belief that this was ‘no man’s land’.

“Every non-Indigenous person in this country has had the thought process. They have benefited from that thought process.

“This country is so confused, what happened after 1993 when the high court said ‘no this wasn’t no man’s land’ where was the education to re-educate every single person in this country to say our lives mattered.”

'Heavy conversations'

Human rights activist Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts agreed that it’s time for Australians to start having hard conversations about our national identity but warned that the responsibility to facilitate these conversations should not be on First Nations people.

“We actually need to start having these heavy conversations because white Australia is still so complacent with facing their own backyard, what they today still benefit off,” she said.

“White Australia today still benefits off the oppression of our people. White Australia has a responsibility to start having these dark conversations and addressing the issues that they’ve caused.

“Why is the onus always on First Nations people to address what we’re going through and our pain and our sorrow?

“When are the conversations and the panels going to be white Australia saying this is what we’re going to do to give back what we’ve benefited off?”

Network 10 national affairs editor Hugh Riminton, who migrated to Australia in the 1980s, said he entered an Australia that was friendly, but in denial about its history. Now, he said, that narrative is beginning to come to the forefront.

“It was friendly, confident but incredibly narrow, it had an image of itself,” he said.

“You can see why some people have a great nostalgia for that time, because it seems incredibly simple. 

“What we deal with now, if we’re honest, we deal with a much more complex society and we’re slowly coming to own a more complex society.”

'Entrenched racism and coffee snobbery'

But in a nation that’s so slowly coming to terms with its own history, poet and law scholar Alison Whittaker said our international reputation reflects a narrative that only scratches the surface.

“Our international reputation is one of deep, entrenched racism and coffee snobbery,” she said.

Ms Whittaker said part of Australia’s struggle with its national identity is confusion about our own history, and the influencing of how we tell it to suit particular agendas.

“250 years since Cook’s landing is an anniversary that is often confused with Governor Arthur Phillip, with a whole other series of things that began to happen from that day, from the point of contact, which is kind of what makes the celebration all the more unsavoury,”  she said.

“Knowing that not only did Cook not circumnavigate Australia, and they’re going to take the Endeavor around anyway.

“What people are actually celebrating is no historical fact, but that actually doesn’t matter. 

“They want the aesthetics of colonisation, they’re really interested in celebrating the arrival of a white presence and that’s all that really matters.” 

'Not quite there'

Comedian Andy Saunders said this goes to show we’re still developing as a nation.

“We missed the boat 250 years ago with a treaty,” he said.

“As far as I’m concerned is [New Zealand] is a full country because they have a treaty, they have an understanding, they have an acknowledgement with the Indigenous people over there. 

“We’re probably ⅘ of a country, we’re not quite there.”

Nova Peris said what’s important to her as Australia continues to develop as a country is that we’re building identity based on truth-telling, not brushing parts of the country’s history under the carpet.

“When people tell us to get over this 230 years, it’s because it’s an uncomfortable truth,” she said.

“People say ‘oh just get over the past’, no, what you’re actually saying is get over the history that has had a massive impact on the inter-generational lives of Aboriginal people.

“You’re telling us to get over their history, that’s what it is. This country has two histories - white Australia has a black history, acknowledge us, respect us, value us.

“You don’t lose your history, you gain our history.”

For more discussion on Australia’s national identity, our shared history, identity and truth-telling, tune into NITV’s special episode of The Point, Wednesday January 22 at 8:30pm, or stream it on SBS On Demand.