The first Indigenous person to join a commercial breakfast TV show has offered a lengthy on-air explanation about why she believes Australia Day should be not be celebrated on January 26.
Brooke Boney, a Gamilaroi woman known for opening news bulletins on national youth radio network Triple J with the traditional greeting “Yaama”, joined the Nine Network’s Today Show as an entertainment reporter this week.
The show covered a news story about retired tennis player Pat Cash calling for the date of the national holiday to be changed after visiting a remote Indigenous community on the outskirts of Alice Springs.
Discussion between the presenters turned to the reignited debate about Australia Day.
“I’m part of that community. I’m a Gamilaroi woman, my family’s from northern NSW, been there for about 60,000 years or so,” Boney said.
“This date comes up every year. I’m not trying to tell anyone else what they should do or how they should be celebrating, but I feel like I have more reason than anyone to love this country as much as I do."
“I’m the oldest of six kids, [with a] single mum. I get to sit on the Today Show to talk to you guys about this. I get to travel around the world with the Prime Minister and ask him questions about issues. This is the best country in the world, no doubt.
“But I can’t separate 26 January from the fact that my brothers are more likely to go to jail than school, or that my little sisters and my mum are more likely to be beaten or raped than anyone else’s sisters or mum. And that started from that day."
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people account for 27 per cent of Australia’s prison population, according the bureau of statistics.
Indigenous women were 32 times as likely to be hospitalised due to family violence, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
“For me it is a difficult day and I don’t want to celebrate it,” Boney said.
“Any other day of the year I will tie an Australian flag around my neck and run through the streets.”
Sports presenter Tony Jones asked Boney why she thought the issue was so important.
“Because that’s the first day; that’s the day that it changed for us. That’s sort of the beginning of what some people would say is ‘the end’. That’s the turning point,” she replied.
When asked by host Deb Knight what date she would prefer to celebrate a national holiday, Boney suggested January 1 – the anniversary of Australia’s Federation.
“Chuck on another public holiday at the end or just celebrate it on another day, but I think a day that suits more people is probably going to be more uniting,” Boney said.
Jones said he was “upset” at the “us versus them” dynamic that he felt was in the debate but drew a swift response from host Georgie Gardner.
“We have seen people living in a community in a way that we don’t see white Australians living,” she said.
“It is just appalling to see a community in a civilised country like Australia without electricity and running water. This is third world conditions. It is horrific.”
Jones said: “I don’t doubt that whatsoever. I’m sorry, but we do see white Australians in similar situations. We see kids going to school without lunch, without a school uniform.”
“But the statistics tell us that our lives are harder,” said Boney, who previously worked at SBS and NITV.
“That is not me making it up, saying woe is me or feel sorry for me because I don’t want anyone to feel sorry to me. What I’m talking to is the statistics. That’s what I said to you about my brothers being more likely to go to jail. Our lives being harder.”
“It shouldn’t be an ‘us versus them’ thing,” Jones said.
“Well, I wish it wasn’t,” Boney said.