(Invasion Day march, Brisbane - Image by Christy Gallois)
The 26th of January is known to many as Australia Day and to many others as Invasion or Survival Day. The date has long been a topic of debate among Australians due to its dramatically varying significances from one person to the next.
Terra Nullius - Nobody’s Land (?)
26th of January marks the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet in Port Jackson in New South Wales. Despite Australia’s Indigenous peoples having inhabited this land for over 60,000 years prior to Captain Cook’s arrival, he used the term terra nullius to describe his newfound discovery, meaning nobody’s land.
Colonisation was not a peaceful process in this country and sovereignty was never ceded. Countless First Nations lives were lost over the centuries that followed. Although times have now changed dramatically, systemic injustices are still alive and well, and work toward reconciliation has still only just begun.
(Australia Day Celebrations - Image by Ben Holmes)
Since 1788, or 1994?
It wasn’t until only very recently, in 1994, that the 26th of January became a day of national celebration. Several other dates were used to mark the occasion over the years, including the 28th and 30th of July, as well as a range of others marking state-specific milestones.
"Why can’t we all just celebrate?"
This is a question continually asked by many. Some people say that ours is a country filled with beauty and diversity, and there is much to be celebrated. However the division arises when one person’s day of grieving is the other person’s day of celebration. 26th of January has been time of mourning for First Nations people since 1788, meaning that this day has incited feelings of trauma and loss for centuries before it was nationally celebrated.
Changing to a fresh new date would allow for heartfelt celebrations to be shared respectfully across the country by all Australians, of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous heritage. It would also mark a huge step forward toward a more progressive, just and united Australia.
Keen to learn more? Check out @commongroundaustralia and their website for original and curated learning articles on culture, history and reconciliation, @australianstogether for more educational resources or Clothing the Gap's website for some deeper insights into the discussion.