Much has been said about Fremantle Council’s recent decision to cancel the fireworks at Australia Day celebrations out of respect for indigenous Australians.
An editorial in a well-known paper, after outlining the writer’s stance on Australia Day as a day to both celebrate and think, then referred to ‘the isolated moments of darkness in our dealings with Aboriginal Australians’. The writer then described January 26, 1788 as a ‘nasty surprise’ for ‘our indigenous mates’.
This writer was telling the story of the landing of British troops and convicts in Australia and the ongoing implications and consequences.
However, the story I heard was one of white entitlement to a land that was already occupied.
What I heard was an attempt to reduce the impact of white settlement to a ‘nasty surprise’ – in much the same way as a spider in your shoe is a nasty surprise. What I heard was a white Australian conflating 200+ years of discrimination, forced removal of children, rape, murder and disenfranchising to ‘isolated moments’.
However, I’m also sure that other readers heard a corroboration of their stance that Australia Day should be left alone and that indigenous Australians need to just stop whingeing and let bye-gones be bye-gones – after all, we’ve said ‘sorry’.
Now I get this. I’m a white Australian who loves this country dearly.
For years, I couldn’t understand why indigenous Australians banged on so much about their connection to the land; I didn’t understand why Mabo was so important; I didn’t understand why we couldn’t all just be Aussies together.
But what I really didn’t understand was that indigenous Australians were only considered Australian citizens during my lifetime. I didn’t understand that indigenous Australians had been classified as flora and fauna.
I didn’t understand that what I’d been taught in school about European settlement of Australia had a very different perspective if you were indigenous. I didn’t understand that the stories we tell can be heard very differently depending on who you are and what your background is.
It took an experience working in off-shore processing with asylum seekers to open my eyes to a new perspective.
White settlement or white invasion is the backstory of my nation. The intentional attempt to decimate a whole people or the intentional attempt to build a new country is the backstory of my nation.
How this story is heard depends on where you stand.