This morning started like any other. I woke up with my 5 year olds foot in my face and my 2 year old buried up against my chest. I extricated myself and got up. Today I was heading out to work on one of my pieces of street art for the Little Rundle Street Arts Project. I’ve been lucky enough to try my hand at some work at an epic scale and I’m stoked to say that my first piece came together beautifully and somehow I pulled it off. I’m going back today, kids in tow, to work on my second piece. I get dressed in my best, paintiest clothes and chase the kids around getting them dressed: “Mum I’m hungry!” exclaims Min. “Let’s stop and get something on the way – it’s Tuesday – let’s stop at the bakery!” “It won’t be open….. It’s a public holiday.” My husband interjects. He was very careful to say “public holiday” rather than the actual name – sensitive to my feelings on the subject. As soon as he said that, I felt deflated. I was reminded that today is the day that the rest of Australia celebrates the beginning of the destruction of my people and our way of life. Today is the day that the rest of Australia celebrates our dispossession, oppression, and genocide; with tacky singlets, BBQ’s and drunkeness. Of course naturally, and somewhat ironically, they argue that they’re celebrating the making of a nation. Of inclusiveness and diversity! Of muticulturalism! Of the building of a great nation! A nation that was built on illegal occupation, theft of land, of sovereignty that never ceded. Of women raped, children stolen. For Aboriginal Australia, there is no question that today is a day of mourning.
Why then, on a day that should unite us, does it divide us so?
Because January 26th is irrelevant to modern Australia. It commemorates the day that the British claimed sovereignty over the Easten Seaboard of Australia – hardly relevant to the rest of Australia. But what it does symbolise is the adverse effects of colonisation and invasion for Aboriginal people. The beginning of the end of our way of life.
There are many dates that would hold significance for modern Australia, and I won’t list them here – one needs only to look at the timeline of modern Australian History to see this. One I personally like is moving it back to the 25th of January – but one day – a symbolic gesture that captures the last day that we and we alone were the custodians of this great land. It’s still in the Australian Summer; it retains the same distribution of public holidays… But it won’t happen. And I’ll tell you why;
I stopped at the shops on the way back home from working on my street art piece, and my baby daughter got out of the car. In her typical, gives-no-fucks fashion, she ran off and I called her back, speaking to her, as I often do, in our native Pitjantjatjara language: “Awa! Ngala pitja! Pitja!!! Wanti! (Hey! Come here! Come! Stop!) and a 20-something woman with Australian-flag novelty-leggings yelled at me: “hey! It’s Australia Day! We speak English in Australia!!” I was aghast. I thought surely she must be joking. I’ve read stories of things like this on the internet but surely it doesn’t happen in real life. “Pardon me?” I asked. “It’s AUS-STRAYA-DAY. WE SPEAK ENG-LISH” she said obnoxiously, speaking slowly as to ensure comprehension because obviously I’m either intellectually disabled or stupid. “I’m speaking my native Australian Aboriginal language. It’s Pitjantjatjara? I couldn’t get more Australian!!” She stared at me blankly before walking off. I stood there, having witnessed the most overt form of racism that I personally have ever received, and my eyes welled with tears. Not for me; I’ve got thick, paint-splattered skin, I’ll move on. No, my eyes welled for the little Anangu girl that I held in my arms, seemingly oblivious to the hate-filled scene that had developed before her. Would she and her brother encounter such vile, overt racism when they grow up? No – surely we will have grown as people and as a nation! I told myself.
But then I remember that today is, rather than the multicultural-love-fest White Australia would have us believe; a state-sanctioned celebration of the destruction of a culture. Of my culture. And until we stop holding BBQ’s in the name of genocide, we can’t move forward. We can’t join hands as a nation. So one has to ask oneself: is it really worth it, white Australia? Can you live with the fact that not-all Australians want to engage in your culturally insensitive discourse today? Not everyone feels patriotic joy today? Is that acceptable to you?
Of course it is.
Because it’s difficult to be heard above all the white noise.
Unless you’re really listening.