Australia Day is Occupation Day
Today is Australia's national day of celebration. Like all anniversaries of empire, it's worth drawing attention to the way that these are perceived differently by the groups who are colonized, in this particular case those of Aboriginal descent. Australia has what can only be read as an abysmal record in their dealings with Aboriginal people. It was not until 1962 that all Aborigines were granted the right to vote, and the treatment of these indigenous peoples has been one of marginalization and the creation of policies that would be treated with outrage if they were applied to any other ethnic group.
2007 marked the year of Government intervention, where the military were sent into the Northern territory to 'address' alcoholism and child abuse among these remote communities. Like the film 'Our Generation' discusses above, this has been perceived by many Aborigines as a simple land grab with the goal of extending mining territories. While this intervention hardly made the news here (or at least accompanied by any kind of sustained analysis), the impact of this event has created a crisis of immense proportions that deserves our attention.
To list just a few of the results of this intervention:
- There are more Aboriginal children that have been taken from their parents than during the period of the 'Stolen Generation' (1869 - 1969).
- Many people ran further out into the desert in fear, breaking communities.
- Alcohol and pornography were banned in the Northern Territory. It is significant to note that while white Australians are frequently stereotyped overseas for their drinking behaviours, the blatantly racist notion that Aborigines could not biologically handle alcohol was still being debated in the Australian press during that time. Every child under the age of 16 was subjected to a medical check (terrifying for people already scared of the military prescence).
- Food stamps were substituted for benefit payments. These were only valid in particular stores, requiring many Aborigines to travel miles for food.
This intervention has NOT produced one sexual assault trial. It instead has resulted in immense damage to communities already facing the intolerable consequences of racism and colonization, leading a group of Aborigines to request in 2009 refugee status from their own nation. It is crucial we raise awareness of their struggle, as New Zealanders are in a unique position to place cultural pressure on Australians.
In light of this, I asked my Aboriginal friend of the Murri people, Bronwyn Fredericks, to compose a short piece for this blog below.
In Australia, the 26th of January marks the day that the First Fleet arrived in Sydney Cove in 1788. Captain James Cook hoisted up the British Flag on Cadigal land and proclaimed British sovereignty over the lands of Aboriginal nations along the eastern seaboard. Today in Australia is a public holiday, and many revelers will drape themselves in Australian flags while enjoying a barbeque, a beer, a day at the beach, maybe a game of cricket, and fireworks. For those Australians who are passionate about the British view it is a celebration of their great achievements and by this evening there will be a new list of people who have received Australia Day Awards, one person will be named Australian of the Year and over 13,000 people will have become Australian citizens.
As these Australians will be celebrating, many Aboriginal Australians will spend time reflecting on all those who have passed and commemorate the deep collective multiple losses: losses through the invasion and the colonising years and the losses in contemporary times. Until Captain Cook arrived, we as Aboriginal peoples had been sovereign over our own lands for at least 60,000 years. We say we became human on our land, our Country. We numbered over 250 nations with distinct languages. There was no one common language. We had our own laws, medicines and healing practices, ceremonies, philosophies, and knowledges. We were sovereign peoples living sustainable lives within our distinct areas on the continent now known as Australia for thousands of generations.
There will be some Aboriginal people who will need to be within solitude today and there will be others at rallies and protests and gatherings marking this year’s Day of Mourning, Invasion Day and Survival Day. Many of us will celebrate that we have survived, adapted and are re-empowering ourselves as we have done for thousands of years, 60,000 years. We celebrate that we are still here; that we are present everywhere; and that we aren’t going anywhere. We were and are already here and will be in the future.
-- Bronwyn Fredericks