Big Issues

I’ve Lost Hope In The Australian Public

lowanna grant australia day australian flag australian public

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I usually feel fiery in the lead up to January 26th. This year, however, I feel a sense of hopelessness.  

I’ve always thought Australia Day was a weird, nationalist holiday — a holiday that, in reality, is just a celebration of British subjugation. I would usually mark the day by protesting. My family would gather, in our Aboriginal shirts with our ‘Always was, always will be’ signs in tow. But this annual ritual has fallen by the wayside. It’s not like we don’t protest anymore. My parents protest every day through their community work. I protest through my work as a lawyer and my sister protests through her work as a writer. Although we protest in our everyday lives, as I’ve gotten older, my cynicism has overridden the fire I used to have, especially since the referendum last October 

When the results of the Voice to Parliament referendum came in, I felt the urge to move to another country. I wanted to go to a place where people didn’t know what an Aboriginal person was. Walking out on the street the following day and having to face a public that did not think my people or I were worthy was an uncomfortable experience.  

I understand that the First Nations community has varying perspectives on the referendum, but I saw this as an opportunity for change. Change that couldn’t be scrapped easily due to the proposed permanence of the Voice. Sure, as an advisory entity, it’s possible the Voice may have not resulted in any positive change. But we won’t ever really know, will we? Instead, this “No” vote has set us back decades and all I can see is a bleak future. In my opinion, Australia really did piss on something that wasn’t perfect. 

So now I am here. I don’t feel like protesting things like Australia Day. At this point, it feels inconsequential. Why bother when a poll in the form of the Voice referendum basically asked Australians how worthy they thought First Nations people were and the response was just so… dismal? 

I have little hope that things will get better for First Nations people. It’s not that I don’t believe that we are doing the absolute most to improve the lives of future generations. It’s just that we need more than the 40 percent of the nation that voted ‘Yes’ to also want better lives for First Nations people. How can that happen when you have a country full of people that have such disdain for our existence? How can we gain support when at every point, First Nations people are used as some sort of scapegoat for the country’s problems? How can we gain support when wealthy media establishments constantly tell a so-called “hard done by” majority that their issues are caused by one group of people, or that the government has wasted resources and money on trying to make change for this one group of people? We can’t win because the blame is always put on the First Nations Community — the poorest, sickest, most incarcerated people in the country. How does this make sense? Maybe if there wasn’t such a successful campaign of demonisation against First Nations people, I might feel like being the vocal protestor I once was.    

And yet, I don’t feel entirely hopeless. To be clear, I don’t have hope in the Australian public. But I do have hope in the First Nations community and our allies. I have the utmost respect for those who continue to be vocal because they give people like me who’ve become more cynical a bit of the hope that I once felt.  

Can that hope return? Maybe when I don’t have to worry about hearing “What percentage?” when I tell people my background, as if I’m required to have some sort of genetic science knowledge. Maybe when I can go to work without someone throwing around racist terminology, like when a colleague referred to a First Nations person as “a one percent Aboriginal”. (This happened at a very “progressive” law firm mind you.) Maybe I’ll have more hope when police are held accountable for deaths in custody. I might have more hope when progressives start reckoning with their own fragility and internal racism.   

Otherwise, at this point in my life, all I can do is keep protesting quietly through my work as a form of survival. If I don’t, at the very least, do that, there really is nothing left. 

Lowanna Gibson is a Gamilaroi woman and lawyer. 

Image: Getty