As most Australians fire up their barbecues and crank up Triple J’s Hottest 100 music countdown on Thursday, thousands will converge on city centres for protests questioning the very existence of the national celebration.
Invasion Day and Survival Day events have become a fixture every January 26 and appear to be gaining steam as Australians wrestle with the meaning of the day.
While it’s unclear whether Australia Day could become a thing of the past, Invasion Day Sydney rally organisers said Australians were becoming more aware of the concept.
“Last year, we expected 1500 and we got 6000. The numbers are going up,” Raul Bassi, of the organising group Fighting In Resistance Equally, told The New Daily.
“In reality, Australia Day is Invasion Day. It’s the day when people came to take the country away from the Aborigines.”
Indigenous Australians have long struggled with the concept of Australia Day, but calls to change the date, which marks the proclamation of British sovereignty in 1788, have grown louder and more widespread recently.
‘Change the date’
Last year, Fremantle Council made headlines when it decided to shift its official 2017 Australia Day event to January 28, a move opposed by the federal government.
For indigenous musician Benny Walker, who will perform at a Survival Day event in Melbourne’s outer-east, January 26 represents a “day of mourning”.
“As a kid it was just a day off school. Even though I have Aboriginal heritage, it (history) wasn’t really taught properly in school. We were given the Captain Cook story,” he told The New Daily.
“Once I was an adult, I started to realise how inappropriate it was to have the day on the 26th of January.”
Walker is part of a new crop of indigenous artists who have been speaking out on the Australia Day issue.
Last year, A.B. Original, an indigenous hip hop supergroup featuring Trials and Briggs, enlisted fellow Aboriginal performer Dan Sultan for their track January 26, which features the line: “You can call it what you want, but it just don’t mean a thing.”
Another track, Change The Date, a collaboration of various Australian hip hop artists, was released on Tuesday by indigenous broadcaster NITV.
“People are starting to find their voices more,” said Walker.
“It’s not about ramming it down people’s throats … it’s about educating them on why it’s insensitive.”
‘Don’t look back’
Calls to tinker with Australia Day have not been made without criticism, including from within the indigenous community.
Robert Isaacs, a Noongar elder and ambassador for the Australia Day WA Council, is expected to deliver a speech urging indigenous Australians to “get past the hurts of the past”.
Dr Isaacs, who has criticised Fremantle council’s alternative celebration, said it would be better to celebrate Aboriginal culture within the existing day, according to The West Australian.
“That’s what the true spirit of Australia Day and cultural inclusivity should look like,” said Dr Isaacs, a former Western Australian of the Year.
“We cannot change the past. We are damaging our own people, causing division, and we have to move forward together to get past this. You can’t go forward while always looking back.
“The hurts of the past must be acknowledged but they cannot continue to overshadow the way forward. And the way forward is for us all to come together on one day.”
But Mervyn Eades, of the Ngalla Maya group which has organised an Invasion Day event in Perth, said the council’s decision would “go down in history”.
“It’s giving hope to children and elders who are still here with us. It’s a part of the healing process as well,” he said.
“Mr Isaacs does not speak for our people. Our people have their own opinions and the majority do not like the idea of it being celebrated on that day.”
Meanwhile, an Essential Poll released on Tuesday found 34 per cent of Australians would be doing something to celebrate Australia Day, while 46 per cent thought it was “just a public holiday”.
It also found 60 per cent viewed it as a “day of national pride”, with 12 per cent using the occasion to reflect on the “impact on indigenous people”.
Musician Benny Walker said he was hopeful the Australia Day date would be changed in “five to 10 years”.
“Ideally, you’d love everyone to go, ‘We get it’,” he said.
“But I’m also a realist. I understand there will be people pushing back because they like things the way they are.”