The first thing I did this morning was turn on my smart phone and open social media. The second thing I did this morning was exhale. Not an ordinary breath, but the type of breath that empties your lungs, as if you've challenged yourself to swim a lap of a pool underwater and you've finally come up for air. The funny thing is, I hadn’t realised that I'd been holding my breath.
I'm not sure why this surprised me, for weeks I've been cringing, silently willing today to come and go. Every reference to our proud 200 year history would send a chill down my spine. Behind every image of smiling faces and lamb chops I saw ghosts with no way to rest and I’d wager I’m not the only one who saw them. In Australia you don’t have to look very hard to see these ghosts, you don’t even have to be clairvoyant because this nation is truly haunted.
These ghosts are everywhere. They scream at us from our history books, “Look at me, see me, hear my story”. They stand on the breathtaking cliff tops alongside the multimillion dollar homes as families, crying “We died fighting for our homes. Our blood stains these beaches”. These are the faces and history that we’re not so proud of, the images many would rather we not remember and others deny. But they are as much, if not more, a part of the Australian landscape as the romanticised images of intrepid explorers and brave frontier men and on this day, January 26, the day that commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet on the shores of Port Jackson, those ghosts are more restless than ever. “We fought in a war that no one acknowledges, a war that was never lost, for a country that was never ceded” they howl.
Regardless of what you call today, there is something seriously wrong with the dominant image of January 26. A false painting, a pentimento created by artists who altered the story but the brush marks still reveal what lays underneath. Those of us from Indigenous nations will all see today differently. Opinions on how we should acknowledge it run a gamut from gut wrenching anger at invasion, heart-felt pride in survival to total irrelevance.
While I recognise a need for a national celebration and a mechanism that celebrates achievement, for me personally it’s an uncomfortable and painful day, one I choose not to commemorate. But this morning when I clicked on Safari, bracing for an onslaught of pictures celebrating a ‘Founding Day’ so intrinsically flawed, I didn’t shiver. There was no ghost fighting to materialise, no faces forced into an uncomfortable marriage with snags and flags. Instead the first image I saw was painted by a young girl who wanted to repair harm, and it sat front and centre on the Google homepage saying to me “today we acknowledge you, acknowledge that something is wrong”. That made me smile, I chose not to scratch the surface, I can do that tomorrow. Then I took a deep breath in, ready to face the rest of the day.
Catherine Liddle is NITV's Executive Producer, Current Affairs