It's like having two wounds with one bandage. It gets taken off one and placed on the other, but they both never heal, writes Boe Spearim.
Boe Spearim

25 Jan 2022 - 11:27 AM  UPDATED 25 Jan 2022 - 11:28 AM

The 26th of January means a whole host of things to me personally.

I experience a range of emotions during the day. At first, I wake up feeling sad as I begin to mourn for the people and land we have lost, and all the things that we still experience.

My mood changes when I get to the rally and I see all the amazing, beautiful, deadly Aboriginal people and see their staunchness. I begin to feel that we are here because of the many generations of Aboriginal people who fought.

We have resisted, we have survived. It has always been ‘Survival Day.’

When I hear the speeches, I feel unapologetic about who we are, where we come from, and who owns this land. I feel pride and power and then I think of this day for what it is and what it represents, Invasion.

At the march, we say ‘Invasion Day’ in the face of white Australia and other people who have come to this country.

We let them know that there is ‘No Pride in Genocide’ and that it ‘Always Was and Always Will Be Our land.’

The 26th of January is significant because it marks the official invasion of our lands in 1788. It also signifies the clash of two cultures and two laws: one ruled by greed, and one that has existed on this continent in harmony since the first sunrise.

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The day throughout history

There have been many significant things that have happened on the 26th of January since the arrival of the first fleet.

On the 26th Jan 1838, fifty years after the first fleet landed, Major James Nunn, with the help of police officers and vigilantes, finished tracking a band of Gamilaraay warriors through Western New South Wales.

Major Nunn’s party found Aboriginal people camping by a river and massacred the men, women, and children that were there. This is known as the Waterloo Creek massacre. This was significant as it marks the beginning of several massacres on Gamilaraay Country. A few months later the Myall Creek massacre takes place, possibly with some of the same perpetrators.

In 1938, the Aborigines Progressive Association (APA) held a silent protest through the streets of Sydney to mourn the lives lost and the land stolen from Aboriginal people. This day became known as ‘The Day of Mourning’ and it is one of the first civil rights gatherings in the world. Every year since on the 26th of January Aboriginal people have proceeded to march. Out of ‘The Day of Mourning’ came the celebration of Aboriginal culture which is now known as NAIDOC.

In 1972, four Aboriginal men drove from Sydney on January 25th after hearing then Prime Minister William McMahon deny Aboriginal people land rights. The next day, the Prime Minister, as well as the rest of the country, woke up to a beach umbrella and some cardboard placards with the four men on the lawn opposite parliament house.

It was discovered that there was a legal loophole that meant people could camp in the park and set up tent-like structures. The beach umbrella became a tent and this became the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. This year the embassy celebrates 50 years and is the longest-running protest in the world.

The actions of these individuals and many other Aboriginal people have inspired and set up the services that Aboriginal people have today.

The bicentennial of the invasion took place in 1988, with each state and territory conducting their own celebrations. Aboriginal people in Sydney decided to call a national gathering to protest and disrupt these celebrations. Aboriginal people came from all over the continent to the NSW capital.

At the time it was the largest gathering for an Aboriginal protest in the history of this nation. About 40,000 people descended on Sydney to mourn the Invasion and to support Aboriginal people. That year, 1988, marks the survival of Aboriginal people over the previous 200 years and so ‘The Day of Mourning’ also became ‘Survival Day.’

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Changing or Abolishing?

I remember when the ‘Change the Date’ slogan came out and lots of people were jumping on this progressive notion that we should switch the day of celebration.

I believe that this is like having two wounds with one bandage.

The bandage gets taken off one wound and placed on the other but they both never heal. At the end of the day ‘Change the Date’ and having a celebration on another day isn’t acknowledging the fact that on every other day except January 26 - Aboriginal people have collectively been wounded.

Aboriginal people haven’t been taken care of and our wounds are not acknowledged. Celebrating on any other day would still represent the celebration of the wounds that have been inflicted on Aboriginal people since the 26th of January 1788.

The conversation around ‘Abolish the Date’ is about more than just a date. It represents abolishing this notion that white Australia has this superiority over Aboriginal people. It is about abolishing a mindset and the institutions that have represented and inflicted harm towards Aboriginal people.

We have many institutions that exist today that perpetuate violence towards Aboriginal people, such as the education system, and the lies people are taught about this country, the police force, and how it enacts the laws that politicians create.

Police officers have been the arm and the force in front of the politicians. They are the ones who have defended the colony since its inception. Then there are the landowners who have only been here for a few generations and think they still rightfully own the land that they have destroyed with their cattle and farming.

When we talk about ‘Abolish the Date’ we are saying you have no right to celebrate genocide and if you choose to do so you will be met with a line of Aboriginal people and their supporters who will let you know that there is ‘No Pride in Genocide.’

So what's the future hold?

I think we are in a time now where we have mass gatherings on the day with increasing attendances because more people outside the Aboriginal community want to support our people. They are sick of being lied to and they don’t want to celebrate genocide.

We can change the lives of many generations of Aboriginal people through the numbers that show up.

The 26th of January shines a spotlight on the atrocities that have happened after this date in 1788. Unfortunately, we don’t get the same numbers at protests throughout the year as we do on this day.

We must ask our supporters where are you? Why come on the 26th and not on the other days we need your numbers? Is it just a way to occupy you on your public holiday and take your obligatory protest photo? If you are sick and tired and angry at what is happening to our people then do something about it. Don’t do it for Aboriginal people cause we have never needed or wanted anyone to do anything for us.

This is a callout - you are living on this continent that is occupied by the oldest living continuous culture of this earth, do something for yourself. We know we don’t deserve the way we are treated and we fight back keeping our dignity intact, so where is yours?

Boe Spearim is a Gamilaraay, Kooma and Murrawari man and is a broadcaster for Triple A and the host of the Frontier War Stories podcast.

NITV presents a selection of dedicated programming, special events and news highlights with a focus on encouraging a deeper understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives on 26 January. Join the conversation #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe