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It’s Australia Day tomorrow and this is why so many people mourn it.

First Nations Australians, painted by Joseph Lycett, in the Newcastle region.
First Nations Australians, painted by Joseph Lycett, in the Newcastle region.

It’s Australia Day tomorrow and in this country we’re divided about it.

That’s because so many of our First Nations people point out that for them it’s not a day of celebration but a day of mourning, since their land was invaded and many of their lives were lost in brutal circumstances.

Some commentators say this is a histrionic approach. After all, that’s all in the past, they say. But for the record, Australia Day only became a national holiday in 1938 and Indigenous communities were pointing out on the day of its inception that for them it was a day of mourning.

There’s a move afoot to change the date of our national celebration day. But I wonder, whatever day we move it to, is there any day on the calendar that we could have a celebration with no grief over and acknowledgement of what happened when white people came to Australia?

Because many of the events still cause grief today.

As Jack Thompson an actor in the new movie High Ground told journalist Stephanie Bunbury, in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Spectrum magazine: “It’s the world of my father!”

The movie, to be released on January 28, is about an Aboriginal massacre that happened in Arnhem Land in 1923. 1923. Then First Nations people were rounded up and massacred at a waterhole.

Shocking? Yes. And relatively recent. And a common, almost ritual event that occurred up and down this nation for many, many years before. In the Sydney and nearby regions there were several such massacres, for example, the Appin massacre of 17 April, 1816.

By 2020, at least 311 frontier massacres over a period of about 140 years had been documented.

Historian Lyndall Ryan has done a lot of the work on this – facing derision from many quarters. She points out that while some of these massacres were casual, most were “a state-sanctioned and organised attempt to eradicate Aboriginal people”.

Whatever we decide about Australia Day, we need to turn and look back at our history and attempt to face certain truths about it which are rarely taught and therefore usually denied.

Those countries which have acknowledged the need for this through their truth and reconciliation commissions have been strengthened, rather than falling apart because of them. For example, East Timor and South Africa.

To read about the movie High Ground, which comes out on Jan 28, go to:

https://www.smh.com.au/culture/movies/actor-simon-baker-on-indigenous-massacres-owning-history-isn-t-easy-20210118-p56v06.html

For an extensive review leading to many authoritative resources on massacres of First Nations people in Australia got to:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_massacres_of_Indigenous_Australians#cite_note-Newcastlemap-2

https://c21ch.newcastle.edu.au/colonialmassacres/introduction.php

See the following for a discussion on the Appin massacre:

https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/appin_massacre

For more on South Africa’s truth commission, see:

https://www.justice.gov.za/trc/

And for East Timor’s, go to:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commission_for_Reception,_Truth_and_Reconciliation_in_East_Timor

To read a previous Good Grief reflection on Australia Day, go to:

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