NACCHO Aboriginal Health debate #changethedate #australiaday : #InvasionDay, #SurvivalDay, or Day of Mourning?


“Many of our people call it Invasion Day … to many Indigenous Australians, in fact, most Indigenous Australians, it really reflects the day in which our world came crashing down,” the prominent Indigenous leader and academic said.

The idea that it’s not appropriate to hold a national celebration on the date the first fleet arrived in Sydney cove in 1788 to begin the process of Indigenous dispossession wasn’t new. It wasn’t even the first time an Australian of the Year had said so. Lowitja O’Donoghue pleaded for a date change after she was honoured in 1984. It’s even more widespread now.

Mick Dodson explained succinctly why he thought Australia’s national day is celebrated on the wrong date after accepting his Australian of the Year award in 2009. See article 3 below from the Guardian

“It is critical that more Australians understand why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples often feel that 26 January is an inappropriate day for celebration.

Australia Day has diverse meaning to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians; some see it as a day of invasion, a day of mourning and of assertion of sovereignty; some see it as a day of survival.

Considering these meanings, it must be recognised that holding Australia Day on 26 January does not make for inclusion and celebration of our nation and all its peoples possible.”

Reconciliation Australia believes Australia Day must be inclusive, unifying, and be supported by all Australians. It should be a day when we come together as a unified people – a day when all Australian’s rights, histories and cultures are valued as part of a shared national identity

Justin Mohamed, CEO of Reconciliation Australia (former Chair of NACCHO ) Article 2 below

 ” Every year on the 26th of January I wonder a bit about how I am going to refer to the day, Invasion Day, Survival Day or Day of Mourning? Over the years I have referred to it as all of these, and I think the choice I make reflects a bit about the mood I am in at that time, where I am at in life, and where Australia is in general.

Photo above NITV : Each of the names captures an important part of what this date represents.

Invasion Day, for me, reflects an honest truth that needs to be expressed. It speaks of the power of protest. It speaks of a history that has never been reconciled, of justice denied. It reminds how one simple word, ‘invasion’, seems to bewilderingly upset those connected to the invaders more than those who descend from the invaded. It comes largely from the 1988 protests which also brought the slogan “White Australia Has A Black History” to our national consciousness. At the same time, there is a part of me that felt it gives too much energy away and not enough to ourselves. I often think about whether or not we spend too much responding to the moves of others rather than making our own, but at the same time the power of the above slogan always resonates with me and speaks to a battle that is still underway about how we relate to Australian history. I believe we still need to speak these words, and we still need people to attend these events.

 White Australia Has A Black History


It speaks to me of celebration and commemoration. It speaks of amazing resilience and resistance of cultures, communities, families and individuals. At the same time, it feels too comforting for white Australia. It does not feel ‘in their face’ enough. Perhaps this is more to do with how the name has been coopted than what it was originally intended for, I don’t know, but it has never quite sat right with me. So many lives have been needlessly lost in our history, and every day; those who didn’t survive. I am not comfortable about a day that can so easily be misrepresented to gloss over this tragic reality. Still, I believe we still need to speak these words, and we still need people to attend these events.


It speaks to commemorating and acknowledging all we have to mourn since invasion took place. Not just the loss of life, but for all of the loss of culture, loss of land, loss of language. It is one of the oldest names we have for this day, and the significance of the 1938 protests should always be remembered and commemorated. Like the other two days though I have at times felt this lacked the fire of Invasion Day, and the positive outlook of Survival Day. But I know the power and the importance of grieving for people and things lost, and I believe we still need to speak these words, and we still need people to attend these events.

 Aborigines day of mourning, Sydney, 26 January 1938

Aborigines day of mourning, Sydney, 26 January 1938 (State Library of NSW)

It is only in recent years that I have stopped the internal debate each year about which camp I should sit in and come to realise that all three days are important, all three are still needed for different people at different times in their life. All three come are essential pieces of the whole that are needed to fully recognise the significance of this date.

There are times we need to protest. Other times we need to breathe, and to celebrate that we are still here despite the obstacles we have overcome and those we still face. And at other times we just need to mourn, and to heal.

Like many debates in our communities this is one where I believe we do not need to debate but instead we need to support each other regardless of the camp we need to sit in, and respect the reasons why we need to be there. We should be able to freely move between each and let others do the same.

There are times we need to protest. Other times we need to breathe, and to celebrate that we are still here despite the obstacles we have overcome and those we still face. And at other times we just need to mourn, and to heal. I know many people who plan to attend an Invasion Day march in the morning, attend a Survival Day concert in the morning, and then spend a reflective evening commemorating the Day of Mourning.

I have at times heard people opposed to changing the date of Australia Day argue that doing so would be to ignore or try to erase the history of this date. I disagree. January the 26th will always be an important date in our national calendar. It will always be Invasion Day. It will always be Survival Day. It will always be a Day of Mourning. We will never forget what this day represents. The only name I think the 26th of January should not have is ‘Australia Day’. It is not a day that was ever intended for Aboriginal people to celebrate. Even as far back as 1888, when Henry Parkes was the Premier of NSW and was preparing to celebrate the 100 year anniversary, he was asked if he was planning anything for Aboriginal people on this day, to which he replied, “And remind them that we have robbed them?”.

Australia Day, for me, is a day that was only ever intended to be a day for white Australians to come together to celebrate white Australia, and the recent attempts to make it a more inclusive day just feel like an effort to make it a day where all Australians regardless of their race, colour, or religion can come together to celebrate white Australia.

I am not necessarily opposed to the idea of an Australia Day that would allow us all to celebrate together, on the condition that we eventually learn to see the difference between inclusion and assimilation, but I am not entirely sure if there is a date in Australian history that could adequately encapsulate that ideal. That, to me, is the most interesting element about the whole ‘change the date’ conversation. Not the push to see that date changed, but the conversation about what day, if any, best encapsulates the Australia the Australia that we would like to imagine ourselves as.

Is our national identity best commemorated on the day that NSW became a British colony, or the date that Australians stopped being British subjects? Is it the day that the White Australia Policy was enacted, or is it the day it was repealed? Is it perhaps the day, if it ever comes, that we become a republic? Or is it some future day that we can’t even imagine at the moment, some future event that could serve to help ‘bring us together to celebrate all that is great about being Australians’?

But whether the date of Australia Day ever changes or not, the 26th of January will always be an important day. It will always be Invasion Day. It will always be Survival Day. It will always be a Day of Mourning.

So whatever you call it, whatever events you choose to go to or whether you just do your own thing, we do not need to debate what we should call this day so long as we can agree on one simple thing – Australia always was, and always will be Aboriginal land.


Article 2 : Australia Day should be a source of unity, pride and celebration that reflects the identities, histories and cultures of all Australians.


Justin Mohamed, CEO of Reconciliation Australia said today at a breakfast honouring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia Day finalists,

“We must find a day on which we can all participate equally, and can celebrate with pride our common Australian identity. I believe that it is critical to reconciliation for all Australians to acknowledge and understand different views around the date of Australia Day. And to ask the critical question: can our national day be truly inclusive if it is celebrated on a day that represents the beginning of physical and cultural dispossession for First Australians?”

Reconciliation Australia  hosted a celebratory breakfast for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian of the Year Awards finalists, and finalists who work with Indigenous communities.
The work of the finalists champions #reconciliation and brings Australia closer to becoming a just, equitable and reconciled nation.

Finalists Andrew Forrest, Arthur Alla, Andrea Mason, Tejinder pal Singh, Sister Anne Gardiner AM and Lois Peeler AM, Reconciliation Australia Co-Chair Professor Tom Calma AO, finalists June Oscar AO and Patricia Buckskin PSM, and Reconciliation Australia CEO Justin Mohamed

Article 3 Editorial the Guardian Australia agrees.

This is not a date that unifies Australians.

In fact it’s hard to think of a worse date for a party that is supposed to include us all.

The National Australia Day Council itself acknowledges the problem.

“We recognise that some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and some non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians may have mixed feelings about celebrating this day. January 26 has multiple meanings: it is Australia Day and it is also, for some, Survival Day or Invasion Day. The NADC acknowledges that the date brings a mixture of celebration and mourning and we believe that the programs presented by the NADC should play a powerful and positive role in advancing reconciliation.”

The national strategy that followed the initial decade-long process to achieve reconciliation recommended the date be changed.

“Governments, organisations and communities negotiate to establish and promote symbols of reconciliation,” it said. “This would include changing the date of Australia Day to a date that includes all Australians.”

But, despite the obvious historical arguments and the growing acknowledgement the date is a problem, there is still deep resistance to the idea that 26 January is inappropriate.

Fremantle council tried to hold this year’s main citizenship ceremony at a more inclusive 28 January event, but eventually bowed to pressure from the federal government. The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, insisted Australia would be “sticking with” 26 January.

Back in 2009 the then prime minister Kevin Rudd’s reply to Mick Dodson’s suggestion was even more brusque. “To our Indigenous leaders, and those who call for a change to our national day, let me say a simple, respectful, but straightforward no,” he said.

Some – like the Indigenous leader Noel Pearson – have suggested changing our understanding of exactly what we are celebrating on 26 January.

He sees three defining moments in Australia’s history: “Firstly, 53,000-plus years ago, when the first Australians crossed the Torres Strait land bridge to this continent; secondly, the landing of the first fleet in 1788; thirdly, the abolition of the White Australia policy between 1973 and 1975.”

“I believe the celebration of Australia Day will always be equivocal as long as it is about only one of these three parts,” he said at the National Press Club last year. “If we brought these three parts of the nation together and the day defining Australia spoke to these three parts then less offence and hurt would attach to 26 January. It can’t just be about what was destroyed. It must also be about what we have built.”

When he became Australian of the Year in 2014, the footballer Adam Goodes also suggested broadening what Australia Day is about. “There was a lot of anger, a lot of sorrow, for this day and very much the feeling of Invasion Day,” he said.

“But in the last five years, I’ve really changed my perception of what is Australia Day, of what it is to be Australian and for me, it’s about celebrating the positives, that we are still here as Indigenous people, our culture is one of the longest surviving cultures in the world, over 40,000 years.

“That is something we need to celebrate and all Australians need to celebrate … It’s a day we celebrate over 225 years of European settlement and right now, that’s who we are as a nation but we also need to acknowledge our fantastic Aboriginal history of over 40,000 years and just know that some Aboriginal people out there today are feeling a little bit angry, a little bit soft in the heart today because of that, and that’s OK as well.”

Even these measured comments prompted wild attacks by conservative commentators and were later cited as one of the reasons fans from opposing teams booed Goodes the following year.

But for many Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, the only viable solution remains to #changethedate and public discussion of a new date is growing. The national youth broadcaster, Triple J, declined to shift its much-loved Hottest 100 this year, but given the public pressure the ABC says the date remains “under review”. Indigenous musicians A.B. Original and Dan Sultan released a track advocating for a date change last year, and this week a collection of hip hop artists released another.

The Saturday Paper has argued that boycotting Australia Day celebrations is the best way to try to force a shift.

Guardian Australia also argues for change but we will be covering 26 January.

We’ll reflect the deep concerns about the date in our live blog – which will cover the Invasion Day marches and Indigenous cultural celebrations such as Sydney’s Yabun festival and also the events on 26 January that reflect the best of us, the wonderful citizenship ceremonies around the country, as well as concerts and the Hottest 100.

There are many reasons for Australians to feel proud. We agree 26 January is the wrong day for national festivities, but we think respectful debate – about changing the date or the meaning of the celebration – is the best way to a solution that will allow all Australians to join the party.



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