Today is my country’s national day of celebration. This date is when the first fleet arrived at Botany Bay in 1788, complete with settlers, soldiers and convicts, ready to populate this vast land (though I’m not sure they really knew how vast it was). They came here because 18 years before Captain Cook had sailed into the same area and decided that he would inform the Crown of England of this great and bountiful land.
On both landings the fleets were greeted by the Indigenous peoples of the land. In fact, as Cook sailed up the east coast of Australia, he encountered a number of tribes of people, similar but not exactly the same, at various points of landing. On the occasion of the landing of the first fleet, many tribes flocked to the shore to tell the ‘white devils’ to go away. It was to no avail.
Back in England a declaration had been made that this land had no inhabitants and was, therefore, the property of the country that decided to civilise it, namely England. The term terra nullius was used to describe this, in keeping with international laws of the time. The many tribes, mobs and Countries of Aboriginal Australia did not stand a change against this imperialist logic.
I find it hard to celebrate this day when I know that many people are still dispossessed of their land, their rights and their dignity because they happen to be Aboriginal Australians. I find it difficult to reconcile the celebration of this country as a land of open, generous, laid-back people while its Indigenous people, on average, live 17 years less than most other Australians. I also find our current government’s obsession with stopping asylum seekers horrific and hypocritical, a shameful part of our history to add to other shameful deeds.
I know this day has various names: Australia Day, Invasion Day, Survival Day, and they all have meaning to someone. I often wonder whether we could find a different day to bring out the flags, the patriotism, the jingoistic hoohah.
I haven’t got a name for this day. I don’t feel able to claim any of the ones on offer but as an ally to Indigenous Australians I know what they would prefer me to chose. I’ll continue to leave it unnamed and have my un-Australian thoughts of acceptance, reconciliation, taking responsibility and making change happen that will positively affect all Australians.