26 JANUARY 2022. Flag Raising
Contribution from Nillumbik Reconciliation Group
Jan Aitken and Jan Mackenzie
Australia Day, as this day is currently known, recognises the history and achievements of our nation. And there are many. The history of Australia often begins when, on 26 January 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip raised the British flag at Sydney Cove, beginning the colonisation of this continent. Aboriginal people, the Eora, watched on from the shadows of the gums.
Today, we stand here with Uncle Ian Hunter Wurundjeri Elder, and raise two flags, the Australian and the Aboriginal, because we now acknowledge that the land was already owned by over 250 sovereign nations who shared trade, knowledge, cultural values and spirituality. The History of Australia reaches back tens of thousands of years.
Jan, what followed as the country was colonised?
While there are many examples of Aboriginal people who worked and shared their very changed lives with the Europeans, this date also marks the beginning of Frontier wars and conflicts as the Aboriginal people realised the settlers were taking their land and livelihoods.
Their resistance was met with oppression, slaughter, the spread of diseases, some deliberate, poison, deaths and a catastrophic reduction in the population of First Nations
And once the settlers had gained control of the land and had government, what then?
Laws were enacted to control the lives of Aboriginal people, to restrict them to living on reserves. Some food was provided but their movements and lives were tightly controlled. A policy of assimilation meant that the children of families with a white parent were removed and brought up in orphanages. This Stolen Generation has left many Aboriginal people without knowledge of their family and culture. This intergenerational trauma continues today.
And added to that are the years of racist management of Aboriginal offenders with very high numbers of Aboriginal children and adults in prisons. Since the Royal Commission in 1991 few of the 330 recommendations have been implemented. Aboriginal deaths in custody have risen to 500.
26 January is not an appropriate day for a celebration for our First Nations peoples. Some call it Invasion Day. For others Survival Day and a Day of Mourning.
That certainly marks resilience and resistance, the hallmarks of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ response to colonisation.
26 January has been celebrated as Australia Day only since 1994, It is not an age-old tradition. There have been other dates in the past. It needs to change to support the developments that are being driven by Aboriginal Australians themselves.
In 2017, 250 Aboriginal leaders from the communities across Australia met at Uluru, the heart of this continent. They produced a statement called Uluru Statement from the Heart. Their call was for a Voice to Parliament, Truth telling and a Treaty.
We are making progress here in Victoria towards truth telling and a treaty. The First Peoples Assembly has been working together with the Victorian Parliament on the design of a treaty under legislative authority. The Yoorook Justice Commission has been established to undertake truth telling with First Peoples to be reported on in 2024.
Here in Nillumbik we promote reconciliation. The Nillumbik Reconciliation Group has worked in partnership with the Nillumbik Shire Council for over 20 years. This year will see the Shire take new steps in their reconciliation journey with the employment of an Indigenous Officer and the development of a Reconciliation Action Plan. There will be events that you can attend. Nillumbik Reconciliation Group will be holding three: A Healing Ceremony in March, a Sorry Day gathering in May and a NAIDOC lecture in July. And watch out for others.
As new citizens we ask you to be informed about the place of Aboriginal Australians and their efforts to gain their rightful place as Australian First Peoples, sovereign First Nations, and to have that place enshrined in our constitution. This is a matter that is essential to the future life of our nation: First Nations and all other Australians united and respectful of each other’s unique place.
Inform yourself about treaty initiatives, attend events, watch films, read books and articles, join Nillumbik Reconciliation Group. Support a united and reconciled Australia.
Welcome to you all and congratulations on your new citizenship.