Australia Day 2018

Australia Day Flag Raising 2018 – Jan Aitken President NRG

Jan Aitken NRG

Welcome,  new citizens , to our complex, unique and resilient nation. I pay respect to Wurundjeri, traditional owners of this land.

Thank you Ron Jones for your welcome to your country. We are reminded potently that this continent was peopled with about 300 language groups of Aboriginal people when Captain Phillip raised the first flag for the settlement at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788. He raised it for British settlers and gave no recognition to the Aboriginal owners who had lived here for 65,000 years.

I know you will all be aware of the call for a change to the date of Australia Day. In 1888 Henry Parkes, Premier of the colony of NSW was asked what activities had been organised for the Aboriginal People to mark a century after British colonisation. ‘And remind them we have robbed them?’ was his reply.

In 1938 Aboriginal leaders met and declared 26 January a Day of Mourning.

At the Bicentenary, 1988, a black activist statement declared the truth : White Australia has a Black history.

Changing the date  has been an issue for a very long time. It expresses a need for knowledge of that black history. We have added to Captn Philip’s lack of recognition  with two centuries of laws and attitudes which have reflected  dispossession, attempted genocide, continuing trauma. Our many efforts to right the wrongs of our past management policies and practices have not resulted in any significant closure of the gap, elimination of racism and real inclusions of First Nations in the meaning of Australia.

Aboriginal people are making significant contributions to our nation. Many leaders are emerging. There are many ways in which we can learn from them.

Aboriginal people are pleading with us to listen to them now.

You have an opportunity to do that today.

Here in Nillumbik we have a practice of including Aboriginal people in our Australia Day celebrations. Ron Jones  Wurundjeri Elder has welcomed you to this land of which he is traditional owner. Nillumbik is Wurundjeri land. Uncle Gnarnayarrahe brings you the voice of the didgeridoo, iconic Aboriginal sound. Thank you  for playing for us in this moving way, creating an atmosphere in which we can think Aboriginal

Now I am pleased to welcome Uncle Vince Peters who has a history of connection to this area through his forebears who lived at Coranderrk Reserve near Healesville, people led by William Barak, a famous and important leader. Uncle
Vince brings us his Aboriginal voice which will take its place amidst all the other voices you will hear today, putting Aboriginal into OUR  own national commemoration.

Address by Uncle Vince Peters

I would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people, who are the Traditional Owners of these Lands on which we all live and celebrate today. I would also like to pay my respects to their Elders both past and present, and also those Elders of the Kulin Nations, and all Indigenous Australians who may present today.

I would also like to thank the Nillumbik Shire for inviting me, to share in your special day, with an Aboriginal history story as a descendant – 5 generations on from the opening of Coranderrk Aboriginal reserve. Usually people don’t know this until I tell them. It often surprises them. I look more like a Frenchman than what they are expecting as Aboriginal. My story is given from  different perspective – it’s a story about family – it’s not about skin colour or cast. Skin colour doesn’t divide us it unites us.  We love our families the same as you love yours.

I would like to make special mention – that None of the people in Australia today are to blame for what happened here in the past – we are not wanting to cause guilt – but we would like people to know our story and help create positive change in modern Multicultural Australia. Australia Day has been celebrated on other days – in July and even in August. I would love to see a neutral day – one that unashamedly celebrates Modern Multicultural Australia. One that we can all be part of.

In 1938 Aborigines reserved January 26th as a day of mourning as it was on this date in 1788 that the first convict settlement began, the first fleet was a convict fleet. I will be attending a” Survival Day” celebration which show gratitude to our ancestors, and we share our culture with songs, crafts, and story-telling in a happy festive family atmosphere. Other Aboriginal groups, and a growing number of the sympathetic public, will commemorate today as Invasion Day.

3 generations of my family had survived on Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve near Healesville. My grandmother was born at Coranderrk, my great grandparents had been placed there when they were only children. They lived in the orphan house. My great great grandmothers, from both sides, were also placed at Coranderrk for safe keeping. Their ancestral lands – now taken by squatters and miners. The Bendigo Gold Rush was in Dja Dja wurrung country an ancestral home. The Ngurai-illum wurrung country – also an ancestral home – was used for wool growing near Murchison.

It is thought by noted researchers – that somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 Aboriginal people lived in the area we call Victoria today. By the time Coranderrk was started there were only a few hundred people left. In some cases there are memorials – not to remember the people who died – but to remember the people who killed them, and stole their lands? I am thankful that my family was amongst those who survived. “Because of them I am here”. In the mid 1800’s a change of heart was sweeping over Victoria and the killings were being stopped. Killing Aboriginal people was always against the laws of those times, but no one was ever brought to justice for these crimes in Victoria. Some of my family had escaped the Campaspe plains massacre – and they were sent to the Central Protectorate where Murchison is today, a town on the, Wahring, or Goulbourn River as it is now known, but even that wasn’t safe. The protectorate manager William Le’souef used to encourage settlers to shoot Aborigines’ if they disagreed with the squatters. These were trying times for our people. Travelling on their own lands was now called “trespass” and they could be shot, even just getting their traditional foods. The squatters also tried to shoot all the native animals that were part of the traditional diet. They saw it as sport, and the squatters wanted the grass for their sheep. Aborigine’s weren’t allowed to harvest their vegetables and grains either. They were starving. They were also dying from introduced disease – smallpox, flu, and venereal diseases acquired through rapes – later on through bargaining for food – just to stay alive. Some these rapes were witnessed by my great grandmother, as a child. Her stories have been recorded by our early family historians. It still shocks us. On Coranderrk, in its early days, they were safe. At one stage Coranderrk was the most successful Aboriginal reserve in Australia – they were learning whites ways – farming, building, and other enterprises. They were totally self-sufficient. But this changed as the Board Of Protection For Aborigines became corrupted – and the executive wanted this land for themselves. Incredibly – Le’souef’s son Albert came to hold an executive position on the board of protection for Aborigine’s – corruption was rife.

Our family had been split up. They had been moved to many different Missions, including Cummeragunja in NSW, and Coranderrk in Victoria. All these stations sheltered the few remaining people from the many different countries of this ancient land. Their lands were taken, their culture was gone, their language gone, their traditional foods and clothing had gone, everything they knew had changed, the majority of their people had gone. The elders, responsible leaders and teachers, had been drastically reduced.

Losing the sacred land that had supported them for 10’s of thousands years was a cruel blow. Aborigines were not officially recognised as citizens in their own country until the referendum of 1967. They weren’t recognised as traditional land owners of their own land until 3 June 1992, the High Court announced its historic decision, with the famous Mabo case, which overturned the fictional but legal doctrine of terra nullius – a term meaning “nobody’s land”, an old Roman Term.

Aborigines still today are taunted by political leaders to “Get over it” they say, forget the past they say. While schools all over the World teach their country’s history. We must forget ours. In the mid 1950’s atomic bomb tests were being carried out at Woomera – land on which Aborigines were living. They weren’t moved to safety a shameful act. Today – astonishingly – World leaders are again threatening atomic warfare – as if have they’ve forgotten all the lessons of the past.

Change the character of a country through law, culture, technology, migration and compassion – it’s a constant evolutionary process. This ancient 65,000 year Aboriginal history makes Australia like no other country in the World – until 1788 we never had Empires, money or fences. It was unimaginably different to the British Empire. Land care in Australia was technological wonder in social and cultural longevity that should be admired. Respect, caring and sharing was the foundation. We all should be proud of it.

Congratulations once again to you on your citizenship – I wish you happiness and every success – for you and yours families. Mostly I hope we can all one day share in an Australia Day that is inclusive of all Australians in this beautiful country.

Wominjeka Wurundjeri Kulin Beek. Welcome to Wurundjeri Kulin Country.

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