• Uncle Fred Agius leading the 2019 Australia Day Parade Adelaide. (Craig Wasley)
OPINION: What happens when you mix together an official Australia Day Parade with a First Nation Protest March? The aim is truth, love and respect.
By
Travis Akbar

23 Jan 2020 - 6:24 AM  UPDATED 23 Jan 2020 - 6:39 AM

“I’ve never celebrated Australia Day. Ever.

"Growing up, it wasn’t something we recognised or celebrated, it was always about Survival Day.

"Or I went off to the beach to go crabbing or I went fishing and I had a day of reflection”. 

This is how Alexis West, a Birri-Gubba, Wokka Wokka and South Sea Islander woman, has experienced the 26th January in the past.  This year, the day promises to be radically different.

Ms West will be walking, front and centre in the official Australia Day parade in Adelaide, as one of the key people who organised the involvement of First Nations peoples in the event, in her capacity as head of the Indigenous Open Circle Discussion Group.

Participation has grown since last year's parade, when an Australian 'first' occurred. The Australia Day parade was led by First Nations peoples, with signs reading #changethedate, #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe. 

In Adelaide, debate and truth-telling is welcome on the 26th January.

Organisers are calling for people to 'stand with out First Nations peoples for a ceremony held on Kaurna Country including truth, love, respect, hope, sharing and storytelling of our past, present and future.'

This does not mean the decision by First Nations peoples to participate has been easy.

January 26 is one of the most controversial dates on the Australian calendar, and in 2020, even the most uninformed would surely know why.

While most non-Indigenous will celebrate on Australia Day, many will also lend their support to First Nations peoples who protest the date, across the country.

Mainstream media will be dominated by clips of either ‘Aussies’ at the beach, having a BBQ and a beer, or clips of the huge protests that are likely to come. Social media will be set alight by hashtags like #changethedate, #changethenation or #abolishaustraliaday.

Passionate Indigenous leaders of young and old will make pleas for change, all the while many will experience a backlash of racism in response to their attitude to the date. As though we need any more reasons to oppose the date. Avoiding 'haters', just one of many. 

Protesting Australia Day has long been a way to get a message across, and in the last 15 or so years, social media has also become a powerful way to implement change – cancel culture and #MeToo are tangible evidence of this.

Jan Chorley, the CEO of the Australia Day Council in South Australia says, “The centrality of engagement of our First Nations Peoples on Australia Day and opening up the space to ensure First Nations peoples voices are front and centre is critical to progressing our Nation”. 

As First Nations peoples, we have heard statements like this one many times over, but the sentiment is almost never followed through. Shifts are occurring. Jan Chorley has ensured a central space for Indigenous voices in the appointment of Gina Rings as the first Indigenous Producer for Australia Day in the city. 

"It’s a march. It’s a protest." said Ms West, reflecting on her participation in the parade.

"Even though we are participating in it, we are still sharing our message and our values".

Critically important to Ms West is "other people recognising that this is a day that is painful for us."

The decision to lead the parade offers spectators an invitation, to see the First Nation's perspective of the day. 

They hope by leading, they will be "creating that visual impact for people to go 'oh, okay, maybe we could consider a change' because it is pretty s**t to be celebrating on a day when genocide began”.

This year, just like last year, the parade will be led by Ngarrindjeri Elder, Uncle Moogy Sumner and Kaurna Elder, Uncle Fred Agius. They will be starting early, with "Mourning in the Morning", a Smoking Ceremony at 7am in Adelaide, at Elder Park (Tarntanya Wama).

Many volunteers have joined forces to make the signs, banners and artworks for the 2020 parade.

Duane Rankine from the Open Circle Discussion Group collaborated with Matthew Plummer, the Founder and Director of Big Idea Giants, to make special Kaurna shields, so that First Nations voices will have power on the day.

The contribution of Mr Rankine has been invaluable to the initiative, and he is proud that First Nation people will be front and centre on the day, looking forward to ensuring there is representation, for as long as there is such a parade.

The group are aware that there may be backlash from the community for being involved in the parade.

To this, Alexis West says keep disagreeing, but I implore you, to critically think about what we are trying to achieve, and that there’s so many different ways of fighting and being warriors, really trying to make changes.  

"Maybe we need to be like termites and infiltrate from the inside. There’s lots of different ways of resisting oppression.” 

Whether you agree or disagree, I think it’s pretty cool that Elders and mob have come together to spread the same message that the big protests in Sydney in Melbourne do, in a way that the rest of Australia can’t seem to manage; right at the front of the official parade.

 

NITV presents a selection of dedicated programming, special events and news highlights with a focus on encouraging greater understanding of Indigenous Australian perspectives on 26 January. Join the conversation #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe

 

Related
'This country is confused': The Point asks who are we?
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?’
NITV presents Always Was, Always Will Be
In the week leading up to January 26, NITV is programming a slate of programs on the theme of, Always Was, Always Will Be, to promote and encourage greater understanding of Indigenous Australian perspectives.

Travis Akbar is a Wongatha man living on Peramangk country, Adelaide. He is a film critic and freelance writer. Follow Travis @TravAkbar