A contentious one.
Australia Day – do we need to change the date?
Now before you roll your eyes, get irritated and stop reading… just humour me for a minute or two. Those who know me know that I LOVE a good barbecue, with or without prawns on it, and any excuse to catch up with mates.
Australia Day celebrations, as we know them, are about celebrating the best of what Australia has to offer: golden beaches, national parks, many of the world’s most liveable cities and a culture founded upon the ‘She’ll be right, mate’ mentality. Australia Day is our national day, marking the anniversary of the First Fleet of British ships arriving in Port Jackson in 1788.
For my entire life, I have actively partaken in Australia Day celebrations, watching the longstanding ‘traditions’ of cockroach racing, thong throwing and other such antics whilst celebrating with friends on Australia Day.
I have been guilty in past years of the very eye roll and irritation mentioned earlier upon hearing someone mention the prospect of changing the date of Australia Day.
‘Buzzkill’, I would think, as I tuned out immediately from the conversation. Guilty.
Literally this year, however, I have changed my view.
As a parent, one of the lessons closest to my heart that I work hard to impart upon each of my five children, is that of empathy. It is thanks to the empathy shown by Australians as a whole that I was able to marry my love this year, and have my relationship recognised as being worthy of the same rights as heterosexual ones.
I was sceptical that it would ever happen.
I was wrong.
What it taught me is that we, as a nation, DO have the power to change the things we dislike, if enough people are prepared to put themselves in the shoes of those affected, and display some empathy.
The date of 26 January marks the anniversary of the day when 65,000 years of history changed forever.
Yes, we have said ‘Sorry’ as a nation. However this ‘Sorry’ was for the forcible removal of children from their families – for the Stolen Generation.
But what about the genocide?
The fact remains that between 1788 and 1920, the Indigenous Australian population dwindled from 800,000 to 60,000 at the hands of the British settlers.
Didn’t know these figures? I’m not surprised. I didn’t either until recently. That’s because we don’t talk about it. It’s one of our great country’s ‘dirty little secrets’ that we prefer to keep under wraps. It’s shameful and we prefer not to think about it. Push it to the back of the closet with the other skeletons.
Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. Be it shame, or embarrassment, or pure ignorance, we continue to disregard this suffering and pain felt by our Indigenous people and the effect it has had on their culture as a whole.
Every year when we celebrate on January 26, we inadvertently belittle the suffering of Indigenous Australians. The ugliness of our history cannot be changed, but celebration on this particular day can.
I honestly believe that the majority of Australians feel genuine shame about many aspects of events that have taken place since British settlement. Movies such as ‘Rabbitproof Fence’ and ‘Australia’ highlight some of the many horrors of the Indigenous experience after British settlement.
The simple fact is that I can no longer, in all good conscience, continue to be ignorant and disrespectful to the experience of Indigenous Australians.
Our children need to see us setting the example – that when you make mistakes, you set about as best you can to make them right. You listen to the point of view of others, and you do your best to understand what it’s like to be them.
These are hard lessons to learn, but that’s what makes them so valuable. It’s these types of issues, the ones no one really wants to talk about, that need our empathy and our understanding the most.
“Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.’