Editor's Note: This piece contains screenshots of abuse sent to Brydie by people online. While the slurs are censored, its content might still be distressing to some.
Every year, in the weeks leading up to January 26th, my social media feeds are flooded with posts about Invasion Day. Debates rage back and forth over what actually happened on this day in history, and whether we should celebrate modern Australia on January 26th.
First, let us clear up what actually happened on this day. On January 26th, 1788, Arthur Phillip raised the British flag in Sydney Cove, claiming the land for Britain and beginning the ongoing cultural genocide of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In 1938, on January 26th, First Nations peoples held the first Day of Mourning protest. This first day of Mourning was held long before Australia Day was first celebrated as a public holiday on this day in 1994, after previously being held on July 30th in 1915, then on July 28th in 1916 before then being celebrated nationally on January 26th in 1935.
So why is it so controversial to want to change the date when it's been changed before?
I wrote this piece for the Lithgow Mercury after cancelling the Invasion Day protest I organised to be held in the Queen Elizabeth Park. My vision for this protest was small; a picnic rug, some music, a few posters, and to peacefully sit in the park for a few hours, potentially answering questions from curious passers by. My intention for holding this protest was to bring attention to the issues First Nations peoples face within this community, and nationwide.
A protest held in Sydney is not unheard of, and is a diverse and safe event.
A protest in Lithgow is exceptional, and results in death threats sent to the organisers via Facebook.
Seeing many comments on posts on the Lithgow community Facebook pages, spewing racist misinformation, (such as historically incorrect dates of invasion, denying that there ever was an invasion, or something about citizenship/passports?) with seemingly no opposition inspired me to hold an Invasion Day protest here, not attend the annual event held in Sydney. Yearly protests occur in almost all major cities all across Australia, but due to Lithgow's location and smaller community size, it is easier to turn a blind eye to the inequalities still faced by the First Nations peoples. Small towns like Lithgow are the places these conversations need to be held, as it is where the changes are most needed to be made.
We are fortunate to live in a town with a fantastic First Nations community, however, Lithgow is seriously lacking the ability to move beyond performative actions and actually engage meaningfully with its First Nations peoples. Whilst a decorative Indigenous mural is nice to look at, and more inclusive than not, it's a tokenistic action by a local council that refuses to take more meaningful steps towards supporting its First Nations citizens. Growing up here has allowed me to experience firsthand the blatant racism that is rife within the community, and the need for conversations to be had, especially on issues regarding First Nations peoples.
Though it is sad to say, I was not surprised to receive death threats, and even threats to vandalise my dead mother's grave when I announced my intentions to peacefully protest in Queen Elizabeth Park. In my 17 years living in the Greater Lithgow area I have experienced what is the average experience for Indigenous youth in Australia. I have grown up being called names, slurs, I have experienced violence due to my heritage, dismissive and derisive comments about "all the benefits I get from Centrelink". These behaviours are so entrenched in society that these comments were often overlooked or even reiterated by authority figures in my life; those who should be protecting the futures of our First Nations youth, not destroying it.
My Indigenous heritage was also frequently questioned by non-Indigenous people as I am "white passing" with a European surname. The implication being that I couldn't have it "that bad", or even that I am not of Wiradjuri heritage (ahem, Stolen Generation). Again, this is something many Indigenous youth experience, not only in Lithgow but around Australia.
The fact that Australia Day is celebrated on this day, January 26th, further cements that no matter how bad First Nations peoples are treated, whether throughout history or presently, white people are insistent on celebrating the dominance of western culture by drinking and getting sunburnt, and belligerently arguing with anyone who tries to make them reflect on the broader implications of this date in Australian history.
The anger exhibited by those who are un-oppressed when presented with a potential adjustment to their public holiday calendar is exemplary of the entitlement that white western culture still holds over First Nations peoples. To participate in Australia Day is to be complicit in the racist underculture our society pretends not to have. To celebrate Australia Day is a hallmark of white supremacy.
Though I understand it's a controversial opinion, given Australia's human rights record not only with First Nations peoples, but with asylum seekers, immigrants, and our recent war crimes investigations, I often wonder if we should be celebrating Australia Day at all.
As a young Wiradjuri woman, I refuse to celebrate Australia Day.
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