Every new year as January begins, I start to reflect on January 26. As the daughter of a Stolen Generations mother and a non-Indigenous father, it can be a difficult and conflicting time. For many years as a child, I remember the family “Australia Day” barbeques.
There were certainly fun times as we gathered around the barbie, with little thought or understanding about the trauma behind what the day means for many First Nations peoples. And why – or how – would we have broached those topics? I was far removed from culture, removed from language and my ancestral history, and schooled in a Western education system in the midst of the assimilation policy, which was not formally abolished by the Commonwealth government until 1973. I recall sitting in the classroom with a textbook in front of me that talked about “the Dreamtime”, and in books Aboriginal people were often referred to as savages – and always in past tense. Where was I in this history, and how has this influenced the opinions of others?
I was not taught in school about the thousands of Aboriginal people who lost their lives in the many brutal massacres that swept across our entire nation.
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I was not taught in school that there were brave Aboriginal warriors who fought and died for their country in the frontier wars.
I was not taught in school that Brisbane’s Boundary streets formed invisible lines that excluded Aboriginal people from entering the city after curfew. That police troopers cracked stockwhips each day to enforce this racial segregation.
I was not taught in school that Aboriginal children were sometimes referred to as “crossbreeds”, “half-castes” or “quadroons”. That they were forcibly removed from their families and put under the “guardianship” of “chief protectors”.
My mother never shared the story of how she was taken from Country until I was in my thirties. There was such secrecy over the Stolen Generations among Aboriginal people, for fear their children would be taken too, that many never shared their stories, thus silencing the voices of so many First Nations peoples.
Instead, I was taught that this land belonged to no one. That there was no active resistance to British invasion, that Captain Cook discovered this country and that the colonies brought “civilisation” to Aboriginal people. I was taught about Burke and Wills and Matthew Flinders, the conquests of European explorers, and to love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains. And I was taught to celebrate Australia on January 26.
My real education on Australia’s history happened, as it should, in our communities with Custodians. Here I learnt about the richness and diversity of our people, the oldest continuing living culture in the world.
I learnt that once we acknowledge the untold truths of a history that was previously one-sided, deepening our understanding of the events and policies that allowed and even encouraged such atrocities, we have an opportunity for January 26 to become a day of mourning, for deep reflection and further education.
Truth-telling has the power to heal, but education has the power to create generational change.
At Sharing Stories Foundation, we are passionate about creating safe spaces for yarning and
learning. That’s why this year we’re encouraging all Australians to take a moment to step back from the debate and take a step toward unity through education.
We acknowledge that, for many First Nations peoples, January 26 is not a day to celebrate but a day of mourning, and we encourage you to reach out and learn from your local community.
To support this, we are providing free access to a suite of Invasion Day resources through our online education portal, Jajoo Warrngara: The Culture Classroom. These free resources provide an easy way for Australians to deepen their knowledge of a shared history through the perspectives of Sharing Stories’ First Nations community partners.
We’re calling on Australians to educate, contemplate and circulate their #MomentOfTruth via social media in the lead up to or on January 26. To take the opportunity to learn the history of colonisation from First Nations voices. To contemplate what it means to be Australian through a shared history that goes back more than 60,000 years. And to circulate information by sharing your #MomentOfTruth and encouraging friends, families and teachers in your life to engage with the Jajoo Warrngara free lessons.
Here are five ways to find your moments of truth on January 26.
Learn and teach
Access the free resources at Jajoo Warrngara: The Culture Classroom.
The Australian Wars – an SBS documentary series that explores the bloody wars fought between the colonial settlers and local tribes from the time the first land grants were allocated in 1792 – is essential viewing. And *High Ground* is a powerful 2020 film inspired by a massacre that took place in northern Australia. It was shot on location in Kakadu National Park and East Arnhem Land, on Country that has never before been seen on film.
Seek out A Short History of the Australian Indigenous Resistance 1950 – 1990. Amy McQuire and Matt Chun’s 2021 children’s book, Day Break*, is about a family making their way back to Country on January 26. There’s also Bruce Elder’s *Blood on the Wattle, which draws together much of the information recorded in books and journals about the massacres of Aboriginal people.
Awaye, an ABC Radio National program (also available as a podcast), focuses on Aboriginal arts, history and culture. The episode “Mapping the traumascape” is about a University of Newcastle project documenting massacre sites across the continent. (Read more about the project here.) And “One Discordant Note: The 1938 Day of Mourning” covers what is regarded as one of the first organised civil rights protests by Aboriginal people.
Repost First Nations peoples’ perspectives to amplify First Nations voices.
Pitta Pitta woman Sharon Williams was born and lives on Yaggera and Turrabul Country (Brisbane). She is co-CEO of Sharing Stories, a not-for-profit organisation led by a majority First Nations board that has worked for 10 years with and for First Nations communities to protect, maintain and grow language, stories and cultural heritage. Sharing Stories facilitates community-driven arts and education initiatives that support cultural continuity, building connections between Elder and child, community and educator, and First Nations and non-Indigenous peoples.
Want to read more? See Broadsheet article Opinion: Not the Date To Celebrate – Eight Things You Need To Know About January 26, written by Aboriginal-owned and -led social enterprise Clothing the Gaps, together with Yorta Yorta woman and writer Taneshia Atkinson, on why Australia Day is a day of mourning – not celebration.