The Grim History of ‘Australia Day’

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In modern times, Jan. 26 is recognized as Australia’s official national day, otherwise known as Australia Day.

The day also marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of Captain Arthur Phillip’s First Fleet at Port Jackson in New South Wales— but for many, the day brings to mind much darker origins.

The arrival of the British colonizers, as we know, led to the slaughter of thousands of Indigenous people.

Phillip also claimed formal possession of the colony of New South Wales on that day by the British flag for the first time in Sydney Cove. Australia Day, also known as Invasion Day, was only observed on the 26th of January as a public holiday in all states and territories until 1994.

As if the slaughter of their people were not enough of a cross to bear, in 1938, as part of the Australia Day celebrations, locals took part in a re-enactment of the landing and proclamation of its callous British captain.

“Aboriginal people living in Sydney refused to take part so organisers brought in men from Menindee, in western New South Wales, and kept them locked up at the Redfern Police Barracks stables until the re-enactment took place,” according to the National Museum of Australia’s website. “On the day itself, they were made to run up the beach away from the British – an inaccurate version of events. Film footage of the re-enactment clearly shows that the men were not willing participants.”

The torture, killing and subsequent ongoing degradation of their people was not a new experience.

British soldiers carried out the first mass killing in 1794. The aboriginals were then targeted by law enforcement members and savage European settlers — encouraged by the government. According to The Guardian Australia, government forces were actively engaged in frontier massacres until at least the late 1920s.

While much of the continent reveled in the festivities, the indigenous community has marked the day as the ‘Day of Mourning.’ In 1938 Aboriginals took to the streets in protest, rallying for meaningful policy change. A meeting took place, which was followed by a silent protest.

Spearheaded by the Australian Aborigines League (AAL) and the Aborigines Progressive Association (APA), they met to move the following resolution:

“We, representing the Aborigines of Australia, assembled in conference at the Australian Hall, Sydney, on January 26, 1938, this being the 150th Anniversary of the Whiteman’s seizure of our country, hereby make protest against the callous treatment of our people by the whitemen during the past 150 years, and we appeal to the Australian nation of today to make new laws for the education and care of Aborigines, we ask for a new policy which will raise our people to full citizen status and equality within the community.”

Today, the Indigenous community is still fighting for the day to be abolished.

“There’s a growing awareness and growing solidarity right around the world among Indigenous people everywhere,” said Lidia Thorpe, the first Aboriginal senator elected in the state of Victoria, told The New York Times. “There is an uprising.”

As millions of Australians stoke up their barbecues and hunker down for a day filled with fun and good cheer, thousands have taken to the streets to protest against the day and its cruel origins.

Invasion Day has got to go.

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