JUST CHANGE THE DATE, by Rachel Cannon / by Newcastle Discovered

Picture this. You’re sitting in your house, minding your own business, going about your day like it’s any other. All of a sudden, a group of refuges storm in, rape and kill your parents, and take you away from the home that you’ve grown accustomed to growing up and living in. Your family bloodline stops with you, because they want to erase even the simplest fact that your family even existed in the first place. Every year, they throw a big party that celebrates the day that they arrived and took over your home. Every year, it is a reminder of the day that your family was brutally murdered.Every year, they tell you that you should get over it. Have a drink. What are you complaining about, anyway? You get a day off work, it’s a good excuse to get drunk and celebrate this great place we live in. They don’t acknowledge that it was once your home. And what’s worse, is that they also don’t care. While they’re setting off fireworks above your head that sound like gunshots, they don’t care about your trauma. People only care about their own damn happiness. They only care when it benefits them.

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge that I am writing these thousand words on the soil of the Wonnarua people. I also acknowledge the traditional custodians of country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters, and culture. I pay my respects to their Elders past, present, and emerging.I do recognise that I am Caucasian, and that my experiences and feelings towards changing the date will never compare to how Indigenous Australians experience January 26th every year. However, I do hope that through my privilege, I can educate fellow white people to be more sensitive to more political and ethical issues, even if those issues do not directly affect them. I believe that we need to continue to keep the conversation about changing the date going, as it does seem to me that the only time it’s discussed is in late January, and then our privilege as white people allows us to possibly care for a day, maybe the week leading up to it, and then forget about the issue for another year. Keeping this discussion at the forefront of peoples’ minds throughout the year is a step in the right direction – towards an end goal of equality.

Of course, changing the date is not the be all and end all of racism in Australia. However, it will show the Indigenous population, these people that were here before us, that we care enough about them not to celebrate a day that for them signifies mourning and a great loss of culture. However, we cannot hope to achieve true racial equality just upon that change. We must also work to address issues such as the higher suicide rates of Indigenous Australians, the higher child removal rates than that of white people, the over policing of Indigenous communities and the deaths in custody, and environmental racism, among other matters.According to a 2012 study conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the rate of suicides committed by Indigenous Australians is more than double that of their non-Indigenous counterparts. Around 95% of Aboriginal people in Australia are directly affected by suicide in some way.

In January this year, it was announced that the Federal government is putting $6,700,000 to the Australian National Maritime Museum to fund a replica of the Captain James Cook’s ship, the Endeavour, sailing around Australia in 2020to mark 250 years since Australia’s ‘discovery’. If it is, as Scott Morrison claims, an attempt to improve public understanding of what occurred and to act in the name of solidarity, then this money could instead be spent on minimising environmental racism, addressing the issue of Aboriginal homelessness rates, or even the simplest of education in public schools about how Indigenous people see January 26th. However, it is instead almost a mockery of an event that sparked genocide, and an insult to Aboriginal Australians that the government would spend this much money on something that no one asked for or needed in the first place.

It is said that Captain James Cook first ‘discovered’ Australia on April 29th, 1770. January 26th is said to be the date that the First Fleet arrived at Botany Bay in 1788, and started the reign of horror that Indigenous people are forced to remember every year since 1935, which is when the first official Australia Day was celebrated as a holiday, Australia wide. Some dates that we could instead celebrate include January 1st, which is the anniversary of the day that the Commonwealth of Australia came into being in 1901. May 9this another possible date, as this would be the anniversary of the day that Australia became a self-governing nation, also in 1901. There is also an argument for March 3rd, which would celebrate the day that the Australia Act took effect in Australia and the United Kingdom in 1986. This date signifies the elimination of the United Kingdom to be involved in the Australian government. Any of these would do perfectly.

There are still so many other issues that we need to address in terms of stopping racism for good in Australia. Yes, we may be better now than we were in the late 1700s. But as white people, we need to recognise that there is still a long way to go. It is not enough for Indigenous Australians to fight for their rights. We must fight with them, beside them, as if it were our own rights that we were fighting for. As if it were our own lives. No, it may not be our personal fault that all this trauma happened to them. But we can take responsibility in ways that our ancestors never did, and we can try to help the healing process. And it can start with a simple change of a date.