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With Triple J’s Hottest 100 approaching, Tom Taylor suggests it’s time the radio station use this popular event to kick off a much-needed discussion about one of Australia’s most divisive dates.
Last year, almost 1.5 million Australians voted in Triple J’s Hottest 100 countdown – only the federal election garners a more comprehensive account of national opinion. The countdown celebrates the best home-grown talent of the year and acts from around the world that have got Australians moving. For many, it has become the focal point for their Australia Day festivities.
Amidst the tunes, beers and good vibes, it is easy to forget that the Hottest 100 is also pinned to one of the most divisive dates on the calendar.
The 26 January marks the arrival of the First Fleet in Port Jackson, where the British first raised the Union Jack more than 200 years ago. It also marks the beginning of the British colonisation of Australia, and a campaign that would strip Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians of their rights to sovereignty, ownership and identity.
After being named Australian of the year in 2009, Professor Mick Dodson said of the date, “To many indigenous Australians, in fact most indigenous Australians, it really reflects the day in which our world came crashing down.”
We do not celebrate the coming of the tall ships in Sydney’s harbour. Instead, we mourn the declaration of Australia as terra nullius (land that belongs to no one) as well as those who have died in massacres, those who were dispossessed of their land and homes, those who were denied their humanity, those who were shackled, beaten, sent to prison camps, and made to live in reserves. We mourn those who have died in the resistance.
Indeed, as she later points out, indigenous Australians have made similar stands against the date for most of the short history of modern Australia.
Our impulse is often to try to divorce the music from the date, but as we pocket our public holiday, silence on the matter sounds much more like complicity than neutrality. Silence sounds endorsement of 26 January as an appropriate day for celebration of what it means to be Australian. Silence does nothing to challenge problematic narratives of Australian nationalism or recognise the Australia that existed long before 26 January 1788. Rather, silence reinforces an Australian identity that alienates and divides on a day meant for national unity.
But what if Triple J’s Hottest 100 dedicated some airtime to talk about the meaning of the date to which they have fixed themselves? Given its powerful reach, could Triple J foster in a national conversation in the wider public about the colonial violence marked by 26 January , and at last build an understanding of our indigenous history?
Triple J has an opportunity to bring awareness to the divisiveness of the date and invite its listeners to consider alternative dates, and alternative visions of Australian identity that are inclusive rather than exclusive and that celebrate rather than alienate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
Triple J has never been just about the music; in its short history it has given a voice to counter culture, it hosted the first female radio DJ in the country, it has reached out to country listeners and artists, and supported the music of otherwise ignored young, suburban talents and prodigious indigenous musicians. Coupled with the mood for social change in Australia at the moment – from the movement to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in the constitution to popular support for same sex marriage – the time is right for Triple J to host a conversation about 26 January on 26 January.
It is time for Triple J to step up to the microphone.