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Instead of arguing about the date, I think we should focus on the story passed down to the adults of tomorrow.
When I was but a lad, we knew three things. The giving of each our daily bread and our trespasses, the means of avoiding the acidic gaze of the school librarian (whose name escapes me), and the history of this nation. Compared to everywhere else, we had none of the sort. We hadn’t had the chance, I was told, as we were a young nation. One without war or invasion, or king or queen, one where nothing much happened, thank you very much. We were the lucky country.
Our history was transported from elsewhere, our proud diggers fought a foreign war for a foreign ally, the best we could manage was the nobility of explorers dying in the bush, or the cascading of a horse down a hill, or those who got lucky and struck it rich in the goldfields of yore. Unattached black and white tableaus served as an example of who we were. As a youth, I believed this, because it’s what the adults taught me.
It’s all bullshit, of course.
We’ve had an invasion, and a war that lasted many generations, a conflict that rages in subtler, more comfortable means today. By virtue of PR, a deliberate twist of language, it was possible to mostly erase these incidents from history. As a black kid taken from community and planted into the rank and file of white suburban Melbourne, I’ve lived this tweaking of the lexicon. I was ‘adopted’ in the same way the invasion became ‘settlement’, and the response from the squashed indigenous population became ‘attacks’, Australia made itself the victim. This, of course, is nothing new in the history of colonial powers. The violent invasion of a land and demonising the (now angry) locals while pinching the resources of has been exhibited by many Empires. The British, the Dutch, the French, the Japanese, the Portuguese and the Americans.
The killing of Indians is no longer celebrated, nor is the bludgeoning of the Maori. As Australians, we confuse the twisting of history as patriotism. We’re a nation strongly linked to the past, but we’re choosing not to go back further than the last chapter. As for the resistance to changing the date, I understand it. It feels like a personal attack, because we’re proud of ourselves. We wish to celebrate the country that gave us boundless plains and a cavernous place in the suburbs. Anyone who disagrees is ignorant.
In a nation that is ever changing, we long to hold onto what we’ve lost. The family supermarket is replaced by the mega-chains, the newsagent closes, and the community garden is now a soulless block of flats. Any amber remnant of our simpler existence is proudly held aloft. I believe our inability to change is down to the indoctrination we experienced as youths. There are subtle examples of it everywhere. This week, Aldi is celebrating Australian history with a series of picture books, heralding the tale of two towering figures of this place, Ned Kelly and Captain Cook. It’s hard to refuse that this is the history of this nation, but only because of one of the two engineered the scrubbing of the original story.
It’s not so much what we’ve learned, but what we’ve been told. While we might quibble this month on the question of a date for the future, we should focus on what taught today to continue the narrative of yesterday. The lazy cash grab from Aldi is indicative of a larger mindset. We didn’t matter that much then, you could say that don’t now. That point may bristle, especially those who believe we’re unfairly entitled, but the reason we throw around the term ‘Invasion Day’ is because we truly covet parity. Recognition, health, opportunity; everything that is freely celebrated every January 26. If we can’t have that, we’d just like to be noted in the national history, something far more illustrated than an awkward footnote.
Australia is Don Bradman, it is the welcoming face of Paul Hogan, but it is also the bravery of Vincent Lingiari, it is the pipes of Nellie Melba and the ululations of Gurrumul. It’s the Sydney Cricket Ground and Eureka, but it is also the Mistake Creek and Coniston massacres.
The former, where seven Kija people were killed over the theft of a cow that was later found, the latter when police responded to a thrown boomerang with rifle fire, with a later court of inquiry finding the murdering of 17 to be ‘justified’. Australia is also the places and names and instances not noted, purely because those behind the gunsight chose not to submit the paperwork afterwards. They were, after all, just boongs.
Above everything else, Australia is a nation of cul-de-sacs. One with a boat parked in the drive, and one where history stopped when the boats parked in 1788. It’s difficult to point to a removed page as the base of an argument, as without established evidence, it’s difficult to make a case. We cannot change history, but we should never be afraid to note it. We don’t want an apology, we want to benefit from this land as you do. Scott Morrison offering us a separate day is indicative of the same narrative continuing. We’re a problem to solve, not a people to welcome. Time for a change. Time for us to complete the national story.