Australia Day reflections - The arrival of the first boat people

Yesterday was "Australia Day"- the national day of Australia. It's a holiday which marks the landing of the first convict-carrying British ships in Sydney on January 26th 1788. Celebrations generally involve beer, barbecues and if you're into music, listening to triple j's hottest 100 countdown. There are community events and awards as well as citizenship ceremonies to welcome new Australians into the community.

We have a lot to celebrate in Australia. We're politically stable, incredibly wealthy compared to most of the world and we're free. However we need to find a way of celebrating while also being sensitive to the fact that for indigenous Australians, January 26th 1788 marked the beginning of the dispossession of their land, mass murder, slavery, a generation of children forcibly removed from their parents and the dismantling of a culture that had existed for 70,000 years.

Blame, guilt and anger are not tools for reconciliation. We shouldn't make non-indigenous Australians feel guilty for something they weren't directly involved in. But as a nation we need to take responsibility for the past which has played such an integral role in shaping what our country is today. We are benefiting directly from what most Aussies agree were terrible acts- that's an irrefutable fact. The problem is that if you bring up these facts in an Australia Day conversation, you'll often be met with the rolling of eyes and hostility. We've developed an unhealthy culture of defensiveness and denial when it comes to the dark elements of our past and the modern problems that have stemmed from them.

Australia dayLet's make future Australia Days equal parts celebration of who we are now, acknowledgement of what we once were, respect for the first inhabitants of this land and reflection on how we can reconcile our remaining differences and move forward. That would be a special day indeed.


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