As someone who was born in Australia, I am fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to live on the land of the world’s oldest surviving culture, Indigenous Australians. Growing up I recall learning about the Dreamtime in school, and was fascinated by the beauty of all the mysticism and inherent spirituality. When I got to high school I was excited to learn more about the true history of Australia, about Indigenous Australians and their culture. I was shocked to find out that the school syllabus had only allowed for 2 weeks to cover an ancient culture that had developed over 60,000 years – this wouldn’t even begin to scratch the surface. How is it that the history of Europe and the rest of the world were given precedence over the original inhabitants of the very land that we were learning on? Was it possible that Australia was embarrassed about their past of wrongdoings and was simply trying to forget the fact that British colonisers invaded the land; raped, killed and stripped Aboriginals of their culture.
Between 1788 and 1900 the Indigenous population of Australia was reduced by almost 90% (Harris, J. 2003, “Hiding the Bodies: the myth of the humane colonisation of Australia“, Journal of Aboriginal History, Vol. 27, pg.79-104). 90% – this means that as a direct result of the British colonising the land, Indigenous Australians were almost at the point of extinction. You would assume that a nation would not take pride in supporting a day that marks the start of an entire period of genocide, however Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has stated that he considers it “annoying” to hear people protesting over the date of Australia Day, which he believes there to be “nothing evil about”.
There is an attitude of casual racism against Indigenous Australians that has been built over many years, entrenched in the foundations of British colonisation. A report from Beyond Blue released in 2014 titled “Discrimination Against Indigenous Australians: A snapshot of the views of non-Indigenous Australians aged 25-44″ confirmed this attitude, revealing that 20% of respondents still believe it’s okay to discriminate against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, while 37% believed that Indigenous Australians were lazy and 31% stated they think that they should act more like “other Australians”. This history of inherent racism needs to be addressed before any true change can be made; before police brutality and profiling can end, and before the government can stop treating Aboriginal culture as irrelevant, and honour their rights to practice their culture on land that they first inhabited.
Despite ongoing injustice and vilification, the Invasion Day March was a beacon of hope – signalling growth in awareness. Only a mere few years ago Australia Day celebrations were being thrown countrywide without a slight second thought being given to the possibility that there was in fact something very wrong with celebrating on January the 26th. Australians are becoming more sensitive to the need to respect the history of this sacred land, and its owners. If we unite in solidarity, change will happen, and as one we can break this pattern of ongoing racism once and for all.
Written by Sahar Nicolette, photography by Kristen Daly.