Invasion Day: Australians Want The Holiday Without Putting In The Work
Western society has always frowned upon Aboriginal forms of work. While Australians force themselves into the rigid time constraints best suited to profit, at the same time devaluing unpaid yet essential labour like child-rearing, Aboriginal people are slandered for supposedly failing to live up to white expectations.
We are dole-bludgers. We are lazy. We have our palms outstretched for handouts. We take too much time for Sorry Business and so are unreliable. That myth is a continuation from the early days of Invasion, from the first white people to reach the shores of this continent. People like William Dampier, for example, who labelled those he met as ‘poor creatures’ who did not ‘seem accustomed to carrying burdens’.
That’s despite Aboriginal people across the country being forced into forms of slavery on stations or as domestic labourers in the homes of middle-class white women. It is despite the hundreds of millions of dollars of stolen wages that has never been fully given back.
While Australia has set a pretty high standard for blackfellas, they resist the same expectations for themselves, while still expecting the rewards by virtue of their whiteness. When it comes to January 26, Australians want the holiday, but they don’t want to do the work.
If you think the white way, it would be unimaginable that you would get a holiday for slacking off. But that is exactly what Australia Day is – it is a day for Australians to celebrate a brutal beginning that they have not yet begun to come to terms with. Although the backlash has grown over the past couple of years, many White Australians still seem to swing between pure defensiveness and apathy when debates inevitably begin around the beginning of the year.
It is the apathy that most angers me. It is the intellectual laziness contrasted with the continual intellectual burden placed on Aboriginal people that frustrates me and makes me want to tear down every Australian flag I see, including the ones at my daughter’s daycare.
There is a laziness on behalf of white Australia around the ‘change the date’ campaign, as so many Aboriginal commentators have pointed out this week. Changing the date will do nothing to address the deep hurt and pain stemming from the brutal waves of invasion following the arrival of the First Fleet. It is underpinned by a poor work ethic – let’s not fix the issues at the heart of the nation, let’s just change the date instead, so we can have a holiday that we never deserved.
Meanwhile, Aboriginal people who have traditionally protested in various ways – from marching the streets, to returning to country (as both Jack Latimore and Celeste Liddle have written of this week) – continue to work long and hard. Blackfellas continue to work at solutions – not in the convenient form of a ‘change the date’, but in pathways forward, underpinned by black aspirations.
The Watering Down Of Reconciliation
In 2000, the Howard-era Council for Reconciliation put together two documents – the Australian Declaration Towards Reconciliation and the Roadmap for Reconciliation. An ‘essential’ stage in the reconciliation process was for symbolic change – including ‘changing the date of Australia Day’. The outwardly racist Howard government, the government that abolished ATSIC, that rolled out Shared Responsibility Agreements, that attempted to destroy Native Title through its 10-point plan, of the NT Intervention, amongst so many other things, was wholly resistant to reconciliation.
The ALP, in contrast, co-opted the roadmaps’ aspirations into its National Platform, and only removed it after the 2009 Australian of the Year Mick Dodson caused a national furore when he conservatively suggested a ‘conversation’ around changing the date.
Reconciliation was watered down to a completely empty concept, in which non-Indigenous Australians skirted the work, and instead placed the burden back onto Aboriginal people. It is an aspiration where the workload is not shared, but instead wholly placed onto the backs of blackfellas, with little reward. If you do not sign up to these white forms of ‘progress’, you are either targeted as a radical, or if you are quite conservative, are again targeted as a radical, to make the radicals seem even more irrational.
But this is only one tactic used against Aboriginal people and the work that has collectively built over decades.
The Danger Of Co-Option
One of the most dangerous tactics used by the state against Indigenous peoples has been the tactic of co-option. It has also been incredibly successful and lives on in the words of ALP politicians like Linda Burney, who agreed with her Labor leader Bill Shorten that a date change wasn’t necessary, but that she “recognised the day was difficult”.
This is another form of laziness. Rather than do the real, difficult work, the ALP have instead shrugged their shoulders, refusing to be drawn into the attempted culture war of Scott Morrison. Co-option comes in the form of Aboriginal smoking ceremonies at the beginning of ‘Australia Day’ celebrations. Aboriginal people are again burdened with this load – on a day symbolising the beginning of the attempted elimination of Aboriginal peoples, the very goal of settler-colonialism, Australia attempts to co-opt Indigeneity but only the type they will pay for – the palatable, lovely dancing free of the complexity of dealing with the past.
There have been many lazy white writers over the past year who have tried to co-opt Indigenous identity into their own version of what an ‘Australian identity’ would look like, while around the country, Aboriginal culture and heritage is still under threat, or wholly destroyed, and land rights, even in the form of Native Title, remains weak and is often used to tear apart black families.
Non-Indigenous Australians – either on the left, or the right, or wherever on the political spectrum – have not yet done the work. Those who recognise this, and do not give themselves a holiday, are our true allies.
In comparison, Blackfellas WORK on Invasion Day. We have WORKED hard at solutions for the future. This work comes in various forms, from those in sovereignty movements, to the consultations that lead to the Uluru Statement of the Heart. They come in the form of Aboriginal activist Robbie Thorpe’s call for a black GST, and Natalie Combe’s painstaking work on reparations.
Aboriginal people have been WORKING every day since invasion, from protecting country, culture and kin, to actively working in community today to lower the staggering rates of incarceration, child removal, violence and alcohol and drug dependency that are the very consequences of the invasion of our lands and the continuing burden of living in a settler colony as an oppressed peoples.
Meanwhile, white people sit back, down a beer, paint their children’s faces in Australian flags, and colonise the beaches. They call us lazy. And yet they have yet to begin to work on themselves and their own identity. Perhaps it is too hard. But they don’t give us any excuses. Why should we grant them the same concession?
Amy McQuire is a Darumbal and South Sea Islander writer living and working on Darumbal lands in Rockhampton, Central Queensland.