Every Invasion Day, our vision is simple. We’re asking you to reparate the First People who walk these lands. We’re asking you to pay the rent.
Today, the sun rose over our second Invasion Day Mourning dawn service. It’s something we inaugurated in 2019, and it’s our way to bring people together and share the load of the trauma we are carrying with us as a result of the bloodshed that marked the founding of this nation.
We do carry this trauma with us every day, and it’s a trauma that is exacerbated at this time of year. We need healing as a people and we need healing as a nation.
My Gunditjmara family on my mother’s side, and my Gunnai family on my father’s side both suffered during the killing times. The Thorpe family is descended from one of the only survivors of a massacre in East Gippsland. The Brown family descends from one of a handful of survivors of a clan in the Western District that was almost wiped out. We carry this knowledge and this trauma with us through the generations.
We know that today’s Australian community includes descendants of the perpetrators who we attend school with, work with and live alongside. So it is comforting to Aboriginal people to have non-Aboriginal people stand alongside us on the Day of Mourning and want to change the way this nation celebrates its identity.
We know that there are many non-Aboriginal people who now question the look and feel of how Australia Day has been officially celebrated in recent decades. Those who mourn with us and march with us are showing that they welcome a more honest and mature view of this nation’s identity.
They feel that they can contribute to healing our nation. They are informing themselves of the true history of this nation and they are part of the healing process.
We have already been using Pay The Rent informally to meet our people’s immediate needs. But we also want to continue the campaigns and the fight against the systems that impoverish our people
Another way that allies have been supporting and acknowledge this country’s real past is to Pay the Rent. It is not a new concept. It’s something that our old people came up with over 40 years ago. It was developed and fully endorsed by the National Aboriginal and Islander Health Organisation (NAIHO) in the 1970s. NAIHO (a uniquely grassroots, representative organisation of Aboriginal people from all over Australia) was how our people grew the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health movement from the first Aboriginal health services in Redfern and Fitzroy to a nation-wide network of over 80 services within 10 years.
It was a remarkably successful large-scale self-help movement. We are reviving it to help ourselves.
Because we have people dying who can’t afford a funeral, we are reviving the Aboriginal Funeral Fund, an initiative my great grandmother Edna Brown established in the late sixties to ensure our people weren’t buried as paupers, but with dignity and respect.
We have grandmothers who can’t afford to get to court to ensure their grandkids are placed in kinship care.
We have already been using Pay The Rent informally to meet our people’s immediate needs. But we also want to continue the campaigns and the fight against the systems that impoverish our people. To fight against deaths in custody, against the mass removal of our children and the mass incarceration of our people. And we want to organise ourselves to be part of this climate conversation and this environment conversation that we haven’t been part of.
Pay The Rent enables us to look after our own people, to activate ourselves, and to be better resourced to steer Australia in a more equitable direction where we can all have a rightful place.
We need our allies to Pay The Rent because we can’t rely on the government. By the time the Aboriginal Affairs budget is filtered through the bureaucracy to our people, there’s nothing left. The competitive tendering process has also resulted in funding being snatched up by large non-Aboriginal welfare NGOs who are competing with our Community Controlled organisations.
And, if we look in the International context, South Africa, Canada and New Zealand have all made some form of reparations, leaving Australia out on its own still denying there is unfinished business.
Fundamentally, Pay The Rent is a form of reparations. And it’s something we need now. We expect that the Australian Government will in time make reparations, proper reparations for the atrocities.
But we can’t wait that long. Paying the rent is the right thing to do.