Marie Claire Australia


The lawyer, activist and Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman explains why January 26 could be a day of healing



I grew up in Gilgandra in western New South Wales and in our community, January 26 was never a celebratio­n but always a point of discussion. It wasn’t until I moved away to Newcastle to do my undergradu­ate degree that I realised, “Oh my God, lots of people outside my world celebrate Australia on this day.” I’ve always been uncomforta­ble with it because in my home town the conversati­ons were about how we didn’t really fit into that picture of Australia. I was a bit affronted by the celebratio­ns I saw, especially when you understand what things like the flag and the Union Jack mean for First Nations people. For us, these are symbols of invasion, colonisati­on, massacre and slavery. When I see people celebratin­g those symbols, it makes me realise there is complete ignorance around the fact that these people are essentiall­y dancing on the graves of our ancestors.

During my time in Newcastle, we’d get a group of blackfella­s together and we’d come down to Sydney to march and surround ourselves with like-minded people who refused to celebrate those symbols. Now that I live in Sydney I march every year but I’ve never advocated for changing the date. We don’t need to change the date; we need to change the way we remember it. Because, for us, it’s not just a public holiday, it’s a day of mourning.

I absolutely do think that we are a nation capable of having respectful, reciprocal conversati­ons that are grounded in a reckoning of addressing the unfinished business of our past. A lot of the change recently has come from millennial­s stepping up to the plate and having these difficult conversati­ons about what this day means to First Nation Australian­s.

We always have to be driven by the fact that our nation can do better and it can be better. We have to create that unifying moment when we are all capable of celebratin­g what it means to live here on this continent.

One example of something that can help us move forward and unify is a referendum about enshrining a First Nations voice in the Australian Constituti­on and achieving systemic changes that are worthy of celebratio­n. To me, January 26 could be a day of healing but we need to have those conversati­ons around it first.

There is unfinished business on this soil. I remember last year taking my niece and nephew to the protest and at that time they would have been eight and nine. In the car on the way there, my nephew turned to his sister and said, “Sissy, what are we marching for?” And she replied, “We’re marching for our land back!” I think it’s telling that their generation is already having those conversati­ons and dealing with that reckoning inside their own little minds.

But I also see it as a warning, because unless we address this unfinished business, our next generation will inherit all these problems. It is time for us as adults to be brave enough to have these conversati­ons so that this pain is not carried on.

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