As I made my way down to Elder Park from my home in the Adelaide Hills, for the ‘Mourning in the Morning’ Smoking Ceremony, I would normally have hip hop or heavy metal blasting through the speakers.
Instead, the speakers remained silent in favour of the chant ‘Aboriginal Land, Always was, Always will be’, playing on a loop inside my head.
It gave me such a positive energy, on a day that I have come to loath.
I parked my car a block away from the ceremony, unsure if there would be any road closures due to the early morning community event being so widely advertised, but as I made my way on foot, I realised I could have driven closer. I walked briskly, I didn’t want to be late.
As I neared closer, I turned into Elder Park to see a crowd of at least 250 strong.
'Mourning in the Morning'
The ceremony began with Elder, Uncle Fred Agius leading the smoke ceremony alongside Elder, Uncle Major ‘Moogy’ Sumner. Uncle Fred was charming and sincere as he addressed the growing crowd, speaking about the truths of the 26th of January, asking the ancestors of both First Nations and coloniser to come and protect us all from the negative energies of that this day brings.
Aside from the few bike riders and those who walked by with their barking dogs as the Elders addressed the crowd, it seemed a respectful gathering.
I noticed one woman roll her eyes at the mention of invasion – at least she was listening, I guess.
A young passerby with long hair and a confident strut, who some might call a hero, approached the technical equipment zone where four flags were flying; one Aboriginal flag, one Torres Strait Islander flag and two Australian Flags.
This person made, what looked like, an unauthorised decision to remove the Australian Flag’s.
One would think his goal was to give the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flags the limelight they deserve.
As the Elders finished speaking the event MC, a proud First Nation's man and creator of #Indigenousdads, Joel Bayliss brought Aunty Rosemary Wanganeen to the microphone.
Aunty Rosemary spoke eloquently of Invasion, but also acknowledged that Australia’s Invasion was just one of many around the world and throughout history, using that truth to share with everyone, 'no matter your race, you should be able to respect the fact that this country was invaded.'
This was followed by the Iwiri Choir, a beautiful assembly of proud black women who sang about history and culture. They were a poignant mob.
Their singing penetrated my soul, as I thought about my ancestors and what they went through so that I could be alive today.
To end the proceedings the entire crowd, which had grown to what must have at least 1,500 strong, were invited to release themselves from bad energies by showering themselves in smoke. It took over 40 minutes to get everyone through, with long line ups that included the South Australian Premier, Steven Marshall.
As I went through the process myself, I knelt down to get myself closer to the liberating smoulder.
As the smoke surrounded me, I could feel myself be freed from my worries.
It was clear that there is a level of respect out there for First Nations history, proven by the hundreds of thousands who protested against the idea of ‘Australia Day’ across the nation, and proven by the comparatively modest sized group that attended Adelaide’s ‘Mourning in the Morning’ event.
January 26: Survival Day
Later in the day, I made my way to Survival Day, for context, for those that aren’t from South Australia, in Adelaide, there is a Survival Day event. I wouldn’t call it a celebration, more of a deliberate display of pride and culture. Unlike most years, where it has been held at the beachside suburb of Semaphore, this year it was held at Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute.
Inside Tandanya, stalls filled the art gallery, beautiful artwork and jewellery was on display, hand-painted earrings.
As the gallery filled, there was a sense of love, respect and dignity.
Although, I was challenged by an older, non-Indigenous fellow about changing the date. While he tried to gently articulate his argument, he was unable to really get across a point worth noting.
As I made my way through the gallery, I headed over to the outdoors area.
A stage was front, and centre of the entire area, musicians and dancers entertained the crowd. Directly in front of that, was a large pit or red dirt, where the kids entertained themselves. The event offered beautiful vibe of togetherness, of solidarity, to the people of every colour that were involved on the day.
I spoke to some immigrants who explored the area, they were immersed in culture, and it was readily accepted and respected by those that attended.
The songs sung were about the stolen generation, about prominent First Nations activists. Every word, every dance had a story, and a meaning behind it. Nearly every person wore clothing the in someway acknowledged First Nations Australia.
January 26: The March
At 6pm, it was time for the march.
The official Australia Day Parade, which was led by First Nations mob, on Kaurna country. The streets were sparsely lined with people, young and old. It was a pleasant feeling with zero animosity.
The march arrived with Uncle Fred proudly leading from the front as he did in 2019.
The march consisted of several signs including the Kaurna shield, a large emu and a large kangaroo, which were followed by a change the date banner.
Of particular note was a large, red hand, surely in relation to the Kumanjayi Walker murder in Yuendumu.
The mob’s strong presence was undeniable, marching staunchly in front of the crowd knowing that some onlookers surely resented their inclusion.
I noticed some tired faces, like Uncle Fred who had performed the smoking ceremony that morning. Some onlookers weren’t fussed by the politics, some snapped photos, some even danced.
While I expected there to be more people lined up along the road, all in all, it felt like the crowd respected First Nations presence throughout the entire day.
But it still felt underdone, after seeing the huge crowds that the east coast cities get.
I for one will make sure I attend Survival Day again next year, to support all of the amazing artists who were there, to show my respect for my culture and ancestors, and because that’s what made it meaningful.
This really is not a day for celebration, as the hashtags #changethedate #changethenation #abolishaustraliaday attest.
It’s a day for reflection, acknowledgement, appreciation and remembrance.
Travis Akbar is a Wongatha man living on Peramangk country, Adelaide. He is a film critic and freelance writer. Follow Travis @TravAkbar