• An Aboriginal flag mural in Redfern, Sydney, Australia, Monday, Jan. 28, 2008. (AP Photo/John Pryke)
The former ACT Australian of the Year Dr Tom Calma is urging all Australians to reflect on what the 26th of January means to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Myles Morgan

23 Jan 2015 - 7:49 PM  UPDATED 11 Mar 2015 - 12:37 PM

Dr Tom Calma has urged Australians to consider what January 26 means for Indigenous Australians.

Many Indigenous people choose to mourn or not celebrate Australia Day, preferring to call it 'Invasion Day' or 'Survival Day'.

"Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are quite comfortable to use it as a day of celebration," said Dr Tom Calma."Others want to see it as a day of mourning, a day of sorrow, a day where we can help educate the rest of the community about us."

According to the Kungarakan and Iwaidja man, Australia Day is an opportunity to learn about Australia's pre-colonial history.

"It's not the birth of the nation, because the nation was well and truly here 40,000 to 60,000 years before Captain Cook proclaimed Australia as a colony of Britain".

"Australia, as a continent, was never ceded but it was actually forcefully taken through the doctrine of terra nullius. It meant that we as Aboriginal people couldn't exert our rights as the first peoples of this nation."

Dr Calma, who is also the co-chair of Reconciliation Australia, says discrimination and racism began on January 26, 1788 and has continued to this day.

"We should maintain what we do: our intellect, our culture, our knowledge, our being as the First Australians."

"In the last survey we did at Reconciliation Australia, about half the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were interviewed felt that discrimination still existed. About a third of them actually personally experienced racism in the last six months so it's alive and well,"

But he said progress has been made through movements like the Recognise campaign.

"As a society, I think we are progressing well but we can't take our foot off the pedal."

Dr Calma is concerned by hyper-patriotic and jingoistic behaviour which usually occurs every Australia Day.

"Often, we see it's celebrated by a high consumption of alcohol and undesirable behaviour. I always say that people, particularly young people, who want to express their patriotism can do that in many different ways. They can join the Defence Force or become Reservists. They can volunteer with the SES or others to show they really care about Australia. It doesn't have to be expressed through a day of drinking and other undesirable behaviours," he said.

"It's gone to the extreme where we get a whole range of people trying to express that they are Australian by draping the flags over [themselves] and, in fact, abusing the flag of the nation. We need to recognise that there are a number of official flags, both the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags that are recognised as the official flags of Australia."

There are also the memories of violent clashes between police and Indigenous protesters in Canberra in 2012.

Activists had surrounded the then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott at a Canberra restaurant after remarks Mr Abbott made about the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

"Nothing is ever gained through violent protests," said Dr Calma.

Indigenous people from all over Australia are travelling to Canberra for a three day Freedom Summit, which will include a peaceful protest at Parliament House on Tuesday.

"We should maintain what we do: our intellect, our culture, our knowledge, our being as the First Australians. That should give us the strength to move forward and express our views."