Navigating Australia Day (invasion day)
Join this conversation between author, educator and Gunai woman Kirli Saunders and Gomeroi Social Worker & Campaigner, Rachael McPhail (pictured above) who discuss how you and your family can respectfully honour First Nations people on January 26th
Navigating Australia Day
Rach, you've been doing amazing things, my friend. Your online platform really amplifies First Nations people and places and projects. Your opinion is one that I really value. I want to know what you’re thinking as we approach January 26. Do you think it's a day to celebrate?
It's basically the anniversary of the start of colonisation of this country. Which means it's the anniversary of the dispossession of our people from the land, and the disconnection from culture and language. This is still affecting First Nations people today and probably will into the future as we try to connect back in with family and culture without knowledge that we should have had. So, it’s definitely not a date to celebrate.
Yeah, I feel that way too. For me, I think it’s really a day of sitting together with family and community and being respectful of the lands that you're on. And if you are going to celebrate in any way, I feel like it should be a celebration of the 60,000 years of continuation of Aboriginal culture on the country on which you’re standing.
I guess something that's coming up at the moment is around abolition and this idea of abolishing Australia Day. How do you feel about that? Do you think it's a day that we should totally get rid of? Should there be another celebration at another time?
It’s a really interesting conversation. As we're kind of leading up to Survival Day, someone suggested, what if we left it as January 26, but made it more of a reverence ceremony like Anzac Day? Like the sunrise ceremony for Anzac Day but honouring our frontier warriors who tried to protect us when invasion first happened?
That could be an opportunity for education and truth telling. But my concern around that would be that like Anzac Day, it could end up that everyone goes to the pub afterwards. It wouldn't keep that specialness or that respect that it would deserve on that day.
And what if we celebrate Australia on a different date?
Well, we're still kind of celebrating certain things that First Nations people don't get to enjoy in this country. For example, the social determinants of health, life expectancy, and freedom. Because there's over representation in the justice system of First Nations people, and scarily, our kids are still being removed at a higher rate than ever before.
So changing it to another date may solve the problem of it being on that anniversary date, but it doesn't solve the problem of: what are we actually celebrating?
Not everyone in this country is lucky and not everyone experiences the amazingness of what Australia Day is celebrating.
I'm so with you on that. And yeah, it seems foolish to be in celebration when the settler-colonial impacts are still very evident, like you say. You know our babies, as young as 10 are incarcerated, and that we (First Nations Australians) are the most incarcerated people on the planet. And we're not bad people. It's systematic racism and oppression that results in that kind of dehumanisation of our families and communities. It’s hard to celebrate.
Rach, I appreciate your openness with these hard questions. So much of our audience are parents. How would you encourage them to talk to other parents and their friends about our truer history?
It’s a bit of a tricky one, isn't it? Because, I think there's like a skill or knack to speaking about white privilege and oppression without getting people's guard up. So being able to have these hard conversations, but, giving everyone that safe space to be able to explore it and learn about things and admit that they don't know is important.
I think there are so many resources out there that First Nations people have created. For example, Clothing the Gaps just put out eight things that you need to know about January 26. It’s the perfect thing to share on your socials or within a close group, and have a conversation about it.
ANTaR is another good one that provides a lot of resources for conversation starters as well.
Today I’m wearing a Clothing the Gaps shirt that says, Not the Date to Celebrate. I've had a couple of people who asked me questions about that. I think it’s best to just use those tools that are out there. First Nations people have been creating content and resources and trying to get it out there for so long, so tap into that.
Yeah, those are great and I would add to that Common Ground as well.
I also think actions speak louder than words, don't they? So when you don't show up to a colonial celebration, and instead, you avoid or boycott, or if you show up to our marches or rallies or First-Nations-lead events, then I think that says, “I'm an ally and standing with you.” That's really powerful.
And what about their kids? How could they yarn with their kids about these big tricky dates?
Adam Goodes has released a book called Somebody’s Land. It's a kid's book which really helps kids understand the story of colonisation. I also really like Finding our Heart by Thomas Mayor. I think that that's a really nice way to unpack the experience that First Nations people have had and the tangible steps we can take to move forward while also explaining to kids why that's important.
They’re beautiful and I would add Daybreak by Amy McGuire, Sorry Day - Carol Vass, Cooee Mittigar - Jasmine Seymore, Our Home Our Heart Beat - Adam Briggs, Welcome to Country - Aunty Joy Murphy, Took The Children Away - Archie Roach, Coming Home to Country - Bronwyn Bancroft.
Books are such a powerful way to open a conversation. And we're already sitting down to have that storytime so frequently with your little people. So it's a really nice way to open up conversations about invasion, about survival, and how to be an ally.
Rach, what would happen if everyone shied away from this conversation?
Well, if everyone shied away, then we wouldn't have social change. We really need people power. I've seen firsthand the absolute boss power that people power has. So many people coming together, having small conversations, just chipping away at it, bits and pieces at a time. But that makes a huge social change when lots of people are doing it.
During Black Lives Matter we saw black tiles used on social media to stand in solidarity. But this drowns out some of the voices of First Nations people and POC.
Do you like to see our allies sharing First Nations content and that amplification?
There’s a respectful way to do it isn't there. The point is to try and amplify marginalised voices. So if it was a non-Indigenous person saying, this is my view and they were talking over a First Nations person, then that's not the right way to go about it.
I like 'Share the Mic' campaigns and Instagram takeovers as ways to amplify First Nations voices on large platforms too.
We love seeing allies share our content but I think you're right, speaking for us is not the right way. I've heard it worded by Elders, peers and Custodians who've said: you know, we don't want you out in front of us, we want you by our side on this path as we pave the way forward.
Are there any other things that you think our allies should be doing at the moment in the face of racism? What's a powerful ally doing on January 26 and on the other 364 days of the year?
I really love this question Kirli. Personally, I really like the idea of decolonising your mind. I follow an account called decolonise your bookshelf (@mydiversebookshelf). And yeah, I love that idea. But spread that out across not just books ,but podcasts, films, your Spotify playlists—everything. Just try and listen to as many First Nations voices as you can and then amplify those messages.
And like I said before, purchasing clothing, like T-shirts with slogans on them and wearing those in public. A lot of First Nations creators specify if it’s Ally friendly. Then you can walk down the street with that slogan and start those conversations. Or wear it to Chrissy lunch with your Nan and have a chat.
From 19th Jan, NITVs actually showing some really cool documentaries in the lead up to January 26. There are some amazing films like, Looky Looky here Comes Cookie. It's a really fresh way of having that conversation and Steven Oliver is awesome in it. So, you could invite your mates over to sit down and watch that movie together.
And there are heaps of survival day rallies happening on January 26. I think ANTaR put a post on their social media with all the different ones happening in the capital cities.
But if you can't make it to a rally, maybe there's a (First Nations) social justice organization you could either make a donation to, regularly donate to, or volunteer or support them with resources.
I'm probably biased because this is what my campaign is about, but I think it's really powerful to do the research and know the traditional place name and where you live. Who lived there before it was colonise?. What are some of their cultural stories? Find out about any massacres that happened there. It's really important to know that history and then, when you have that knowledge, you can have those hard conversations with other allies or other potential allies.
My gosh, that's a long list. I think our audience is going to be busy not just on January 26 but all through the year Rach, which I really love.
I think you made an important point: this isn't just something that happens one day of the year, or just for NAIDOC, or just for Reconciliation. These are ongoing acts of standing in solidarity and of allyship, and we really love our allies.
I just love that we’re having this conversation and I love that people will be listening to it. Because we really need allies to help us, we need them to be social justice warriors.
Didjarigura ngyini (Thank you) Rach. It's been such a privilege to learn from you today, and to our audience too–we're really excited to be paving a path forward together.
About Kirli Saunders:
From the Opera House to the Australian Consulate in Chennai, Corporate to local community school events, Gunai Woman Kirli Saunders has had experience speaking across a multitude of stages and settings. She has facilitated workshops for and consulted to large multinational companies, NFPs, Government, educational providers and community orgs. She is an award-winning writer, and artist using her platform to advocate for the environment, gender and racial equality and LGBTIQA+ rights. Kirli Saunders is passionate about enlivening spaces and engaging broad audiences in bold conversations for social impact.
About Rachael McPhail:
Rachael is a proud Gomeroi woman, who lives on Wiradjuri Country in Coolamon, and has just completed her Bachelor of Social Work through Charles Sturt University. Rachael works for the Disability Trust as Project Manager – Reconciliation Action Plan, supporting the organisation in the development of their Reflect RAP, and working to inspire cultural change and embedding a First Nations perspective in all areas of practice. She was successful in her campaign to ask Australia Post to include traditional place names in addresses. She is now campaigning for the creation of a database of traditional place names that has been verified by Elders and community leaders.
Listen to the podcast version HERE