A Colonial History by any other Name Would be as Violent
Huzzah! It’s January 26th in Australia. The day our nation officially goes into meltdown every year over whether we should celebrate or not.
So, here’s a brief and sketchy European history of colonisation to start with (bear in mind that Aboriginal people are our First Nations people and have been here since time immemorial — or estimates of between 40,000 to 70,000 years depending on who you believe). You can find a more detailed timeline here, or here, and especially here (this last one’s really very good). And if visual representations work for you, check out this graphic:
1521 Potentially the first European contact with Australia (though this is contentious and there’s no agreement)
1606 The Dutch East India Company (VOC) make landfall in Australia (to the best of our knowledge, they don’t kill anyone)
the Spanish get a little lost and arrive in Vanuatu thinking it’s Australia
the Portuguese confuse the Great Barrier Reef for schools of fish
1616 Dutch Captain Dirk Hartog drops by Western Australia for a visit and brings a plate
1618 – 1696 The Dutch and English loiter around northern and western Australia, drawing pictures but generally managing not to kill anyone
1770 English Lieutenant James Cook charts the eastern coast, is apparently “colourblind”, doesn’t see indigenous people, decides the land is terra nullius (owned by no-one and therefore up for grabs) and claims the eastern half of the continent in the name of Britain by raising a union jack on Possession Island
1788 – 18th January English Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet of convict ships make anchor in Botany Bay and survey the surrounds. They make violent contact with Aboriginal people, decide the land isn’t good enough to establish a colony and three days later set off with three ships to explore further along the coast, arriving at Sydney Cove
24th January The French do a drive by (sail by?) of Botany Bay, tauntingly
26th January Capt. Phillip claims New South Wales as a British colony
1825 – 16th July New South Wales border set at 129th parallel. The remainder of Australia is considered New Holland
1829 – 18th June Swan River Colony established by colonists who are not convicts. They kill, steal from, rape and pillage First Nations people regardless
Other states and territories are established subsequent to this.
1901 – 29th and 30th March The first federal election is held and Edmund Barton officially becomes the first Prime Minister. The first parliament meets in Melbourne. The Immigration Restriction Act (the beginning of the White Australia policy) is introduced. The Australian flag is flown for the first time
(by) 1935 many states and territories have adopted the practice of celebrating Australia Day on the 26th of January
1979 The National Australia Day Committee is established
1984 Australians cease to be British subjects and sing Advance Australia Fair instead of God Save the Queen. The National Australia Day Committee becomes the National Australia Day Council
1994 Australia Day, as celebrated on the 26th of January, becomes nationally established
Obviously I’m glossing over a lot of important brutal bloody history, but you get the point. As a nationally observed holiday/celebration, Australia Day is only 23 years old. So I’m baffled by those who cling to it on the basis of tradition. It is not quintessentially an Australian celebration. It’s not even a celebration of nationhood in any significant way.
Some First Nations people would argue that it shouldn’t be celebrated at all, on the basis that this country was colonised through the massacre and genocide of its original inhabitants. They’ve got a point. We have a long unacknowledged hidden history that we really need to talk about.
It’s 2017, we’re big kids now, it’s time to have an honest open discussion about the heinous treatment of our indigenous population and the ongoing repercussions.
It’s also time to have a grown-up discussion about celebrating nationhood on a different date. One that is actually significant to the nationhood of Australia, and one that doesn’t rub salt in the wounds of our indigenous siblings. If we’re genuine in claiming a desire to heal, and move forward, if we’re authentic about reconciliation with our cruel past and moving towards a more unified, accepting future, then we really need to put on our big kid pants, Australia. Lamb ads and faux nationalism aren’t going to save us.
A thoughtful, nuanced discussion that acknowledges our violent history and makes reparations is our only way forward. It won’t be easy. It won’t be comfortable. But Australians are good at rolling our sleeves up and putting our backs into it.
In the meantime, there are things you can do.
- Learn about Australia’s violent history
- Attend an Invasion Day/Survival Day event to show your support of indigenous people
- Don’t appropriate culture (this should be a no brainer, but apparently it needs to be said)
- Talk to your family and friends who may not know about our history
- Amplify indigenous voices and issues (social media is a godsend for this – you can retweet and repost all kinds of wonderful statuses)
This terrific piece by Celeste Liddle is a good start.