Un­der­stand­ing Aus­tralian colo­nial re­al­ity

We must not for­get Aus­tralia’s vi­o­lent colo­nial his­tory

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Bre­ana Macpher­son-Rice Com­men­tary Writer

This Fri­day will be the 26th of Jan­uary. I ex­pect that here in Mon­treal, the day will come and go like any other — no fan­fare, no fire­works — noth­ing out of the or­di­nary.

How­ever, back in my home coun­try, Aus­tralia, this Fri­day will be one of na­tion­al­ist fer­vour. Aus­tralians will dec­o­rate pub­lic places with flags, blast pa­tri­otic mu­sic out of car stereos, and crowd hot beaches in green and gold swim­suits. For us, the 26th of Jan­uary is a na­tional, pub­lic hol­i­day, of­fi­cially known as ‘Aus­tralia Day.’

So what? This has noth­ing to do with us here in Canada, right?

How­ever, the pa­tri­otic project of Aus­tralia Day – and the in­creas­ingly fierce re­sis­tance it has been met with – are only too rel­e­vant to Canada. As Mcgill stu­dents learn­ing on un­ceded Kanien’kehá:ka ter­ri­tory, we shame­lessly ben­e­fit ev­ery day from set­tler colo­nial­ism. This is not so far off from Aus­tralia’s own colo­nial projects.

When I was a child, I took the cel­e­bra­tion of Aus­tralia Day for granted. I would colour- code my out­fit green and gold, paste tem­po­rary-tat­too flags on my face, join the street fes­ti­vals, and watch the fire­works. The lucky coun­try is what I heard and what I be­lieved. As a third gen­er­a­tion white Aus­tralian, I felt en­tirely wel­comed into this im­age of a na­tion, with­out stop­ping to think about whom it might ex­clude. Ig­no­rance is bliss, and priv­i­lege proves no dif­fer­ent.

Over the years, as I started to read more widely, I re­al­ized the prob­lems with the cel­e­bra­tion of this day — ‘Aus­tralia Day’ ac­tu­ally marks the date of the Bri­tish in­va­sion of the Aus­tralian Con­ti­nent. It cel­e­brates the day that the first fleet ar­rived, seiz­ing the land of hun­dreds of na­tions all at once with the dec­la­ra­tion of ‘terra nul­lius’ ( land that be­longs to no one) un­der white­fella law. This day set the prece­dent for hun­dreds of years of dis­pos­ses­sion that Indige­nous na­tions would en­dure.

I was later shocked to re­alise that, es­pe­cially among peo­ple my age, knowl­edge of Bri­tain’s colo­nial in­va­sion and sub­se­quent com­mem­o­ra­tion is com­mon knowl­edge. Thus the ex­tent of the pub­lic ju­bi­la­tion makes me feel sick to my stom­ach. Thank­fully, Aus­tralia Day has not gone un­con­tested. For decades and decades, Abo­rig­i­nal ac­tivists and their al­lies have been work­ing on draw­ing at­ten­tion to the vi­o­lence im­plic­itly cel­e­brated on this day. Ac­tivists have ral­lied cities to a stand­still, dis­rupted reen­act­ments of the land­ing of the first fleet, and erected ‘tent em­bassies’ to shine a light on the con­tin­u­ing legacy of dis­pos­ses­sion. All of this is done to ed­u­cate peo­ple like me. Ac­tivists now have a lot to show for all of this work. As a re­sult of their re­lent­less la­bor, Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der peo­ple have pop­u­larised the idea of Jan­uary 26 be­ing ‘In­va­sion Day’ or ‘Sur­vival Day.’ Each year the marches protest­ing the cel­e­bra­tion of colo­nial­ism are louder and gain more trac­tion. They now at­tract tens of thou­sands of pro­test­ers to the streets.

De­spite their re­lent­less courage and power, these ac­tivists are reg­u­larly met with ar­gu­ments from main­stream white Aus­tralia, ones that I sus­pect to be pushed by Cana­di­ans, too. We are all fa­mil­iar with state­ments like: “All of this hap­pened over 200 years ago! “I didn’t do any­thing wrong!” “You’re just be­ing di­vi­sive, can’t we cel­e­brate any­thing?”

Most ab­hor­rent are the re­sponses that equate any chal­lenge to Aus­tralia Day as a “threat to the free­dom of speech.”

The ex­pec­ta­tion that such vi­o­lence should be for­got­ten — let alone cel­e­brated — is frankly nau­se­at­ing. The col­o­niza­tion of Aus­tralia was es­tab­lished through vi­o­lent fron­tier wars, nu­mer­ous mas­sacres, and the de­lib­er­ate re­lease of lethal small­pox. For a na­tion that is so fer­vently de­ter­mined not to for­get the young Aus­tralian men who have died in var­i­ous wars, the lack of re­mem­brance for colo­nial vi­o­lence speaks vol­umes.

The way white Aus­tralia clings to cel­e­brat­ing the 26 is shown to be even more heart­less when you con­sider the myr­iad of ways that set­tler colo­nial­ism con­tin­ues to wreak vi­o­lence in Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties to­day. It is not enough to con­sider its tor­ture of the masses of Indige­nous youth in in­car­cer­a­tion, the climb­ing rate at which Indige­nous chil­dren are re­moved from their fam­i­lies and placed in out-of-home ‘care,’ the puni­tive and co­er­cive North­ern Ter­ri­tory In­ter­ven­tion that has ar­rested the rights of ter­ri­tory com­mu­ni­ties for over ten years, nor the slip­pery na­tive ti­tle mar­ket that sub­sti­tutes closed- door deals with min­ing com­pa­nies for any mean­ing­ful land rights.

When put in per­spec­tive, it be­comes clear that Aus­tralia has a lot to an­swer for, and pre­cious lit­tle to cel­e­brate.

In the past year, it ap­pears that the Aus­tralian main­stream is fi­nally catch­ing on to the atroc­ity of cel­e­brat­ing a day that lit­er­ally marks the be­gin­ning of a geno- cide in Aus­tralia. Now, in 2018, a num­ber of lo­cal city coun­cils have can­celled their Aus­tralia Day cel­e­bra­tions for the first time, re­spect­ing the agony this day still con­tin­ues to evoke for Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der peo­ple. The na­tional youth ra­dio sta­tion, fa­mous for its an­nual count­down of the 100 top songs of the year on Aus­tralia Day, have resched­uled its pro­gram­ming. Slowly but surely, change is com­ing, and the #changeth­e­date move­ment is gain­ing trac­tion. On one level, this is cause to cel­e­brate – it means that these sto­ries are reach­ing more peo­ple like my pre­vi­ously ig­no­rant 12-year- old self, thus ed­u­cat­ing Aus­tralian set­tlers and forg­ing indige­nous sol­i­dar­ity.

How­ever, it is im­por­tant not to for­get that ul­ti­mately, this change is sym­bolic. The ease with which much of white Aus­tralia has been able to digest a sim­ple date change has an­gered many Abo­rig­i­nal ac­tivists and al­lies, who are push­ing to #Abol­ishaus­trali­a­day. As War­riors of the Abo­rig­i­nal Re­sis­tance (WAR) have pointed out:

“Chang­ing the date [...] will not change the way Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple are hor­ren­dously treated and mur­dered by the sys­tem. Chang­ing the date will sim­ply al­low an­other day that Aus­tralia can cel­e­brate their na­tion­al­ism, their patriotism, their past and present geno­ci­dal acts against our peo­ple. This coun­try does not de­serve a na­tional cel­e­bra­tory date!”

At a time when Aus­tralia is also lock­ing up refugees with in­def­i­nite sen­tences in manda­tory off­shore de­ten­tion, where they are sub­ject to tor­ture and in­ad­e­quate care; at a time when Aus­tralia has soar­ing rates of vi­o­lence against women, which in­clude the the deaths of hun­dreds of women over the past few years; at a time when Aus­tralia con­tin­ues to dig up, burn, and ex­port in­creas­ing amounts of fos­sil fu­els that are con­demn­ing Pa­cific na­tions to fa­tal sea level rise – in­deed, this coun­try does not de­serve a na­tional cel­e­bra­tory date.

To put this sys­tem­atic op­pres­sion in per­spec­tive, we must con­sider how Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der peo­ple have lived in what we now know as Aus­tralia for more than 60,000 years. They cul­ti­vated di­verse and sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture, in­cred­i­bly so­phis­ti­cated knowl­edge sys­tems, rich cul­ture, and so­cial life­styles that in­cor­po­rated mean­ing­ful work and leisure. I look at my coun­try to­day and I only feel an in­cred­i­ble sor­row for the vi­o­lence that we cul­ti­vated on the stolen land and dead bod­ies of indige­nous peo­ple.

Our world is chang­ing quickly and in un­pre­dictable ways, and our fu­ture as those who will in­herit this planet is in­cred­i­bly un­cer­tain. Ev­ery­thing I’ve learned, both in and out of my univer­sity halls, has taught me that if de­coloni­sa­tion isn’t at the core of our vi­sion of the fu­ture, in­jus­tice will pre­vail.

Re­sist­ing and dis­rupt­ing the man­u­fac­tured na­tion­al­ism of Aus­tralia Day should not be seen as neg­a­tive, a sac­ri­fice, or even a loss. These are crit­i­cal op­por­tu­ni­ties for learn­ing, sol­i­dar­ity, and tak­ing the lead from Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der peo­ple in or­der to work to­gether and build a fu­ture that isn’t as vi­o­lent and op­pres­sive as our past.

The way white Aus­tralia clings to cel­e­brat­ing the 26th is shown to be even more heart­less when you con­sider the myr­iad of ways that set­tler colo­nial­ism con­tin­ues to wreak vi­o­lence in Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties to­day.

Emily Car­roll | The Mcgill Daily

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.