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The uncomfortable reality of January 26th

Gatherers at the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council 2020 March. Photo: Nathan Moran

The Inner West Independent would like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. We also pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging, and that sovereignty was never ceded. 

By BRIANNAH DEVLIN

The 26th of January, also known as Australia Day, will be looking different this year. 

It will be different because of the pandemic but also because of the persevering sentiments of the Black Lives Matter movement. It will be a reminder that respect and reconciliation are more important than ever, and issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are a daily reality. 

The day also brings forth controversy, and questions about its meaning and necessity. This is the second year that Inner West Council is not running any events to commemorate the holiday. 

In November 2019, the council voted not to have events on the 26th, apart from a small “respectful citizenship ceremony”, moving celebratory events to another day. Mayor Darcy Byrne said on Facebook at the time it was announced, while a small step, it is the “right thing to do”.

The council encourages residents to attend the Yabun Festival which is “the day to learn about the history of the world’s oldest, continuous human civilisation.” 

Yabun, which is the Gadigal translation for ‘music to beat’, began in Waverly in 2003 with live music and traditional cultural performances. It also now includes panel discussions and community forums for people to engage in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues. 

Additionally, the event gives attendees the opportunity to purchase Indigenous arts and crafts, and for children to meet Indigenous role models. 

The impact of COVID-19

Last year, the 26th of January was able to go ahead without a need for limited capacities, masks, sanitiser, social distancing and QR codes. This year, many events have been cancelled, or will be carried out at a distance. 

One of the events impacted is the Yabun Festival.

In the lead up to the event which is annually held on the 26th of January at Victoria Park and “surrounding venues”, Yabun Festival announced on Facebook that it is going to be a closed event, with a very limited public capacity.

The “closed event” will be streamed online, and on Koori Radio 93.7FM. It will be streamed across three different venues; Yabun stage, Speak Out and Corroboree. 

“This means for the first time ever audiences can attend Yabun Festival from Australia and from the world.”

Another event that had to be cancelled as a consequence of restrictions was the Day of Mourning Commemorative event, which commemorates the day in 1938. The event would usually involve a morning tea, march and performances.

Biripi and Dunghutti Goorie man, and CEO of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, Nathan Moran said that while it has been cancelled for the first time, it provides the opportunity for people to acknowledge the anniversary at a distance.

“The actual event of 1938 on the 26th of January is at 1 o’clock, certainly putting it out to people that might want to honour that with a minute silence, or at least a moment of reflection, to coincide with the commencement of the conference in 1938,” he said. 

Acknowledgement, respect and reconciliation

A biennial research study from Reconciliation Australia called The Australian Reconciliation Barometer has revealed there is more support than ever for a reconciled nation amongst Australians in 2020.

According to the study, ninety-five percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and ninety-one percent non-Indigenous participants, value the relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

“That one really gives me so much hope. To me that number speaks volumes”, said non-Indigenous Co-Chair of Reconciliation New South Wales Annie Tennant, who chairs the organisation with Indigenous Co-Chair and Worimi man Joshua Gilbert.

“But we must do more to reconcile to have a truly holistic and reconciled community.”

The NAIDOC Committee has just announced the theme of NAIDOC Week from the 4th to 11th of July 2021 will be “Heal Country!”. Reconciliation Australia has also announced the theme for National Reconciliation Week will be “More than a Word. Reconciliation takes Action”.

Education is key

Ms. Tennant told the Inner West Independent that it is crucial to learn and understand the meaning and impact of the invasion in 1788, which destroyed Indigenous lands and identities. 

“I think that many people view our nation probably through rose coloured glasses. And I think it is really important to acknowledge that,” she said.

“When people understand the impact of that date on others, it becomes more personal, and they will understand how it makes other people feel. It’s actually a day of mourning for some people.”

Mr. Moran agreed, saying the day is not one for celebration and the consequences of the day for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still persist. 

“It’s a very tough reality, because we have a very different experience on that day, but we hope that many Australians can start learning about what is the 26th of January.”

The Black Lives Matter movement reignited conversations about the treatment and experiences of Indigenous Australians with high incarceration rates, and a high number of deaths in custody. 

Many are using the 26th of January to march, and bring justice to those who have lost their lives as a consequence of mistreatment and violence at the hands of institutions.

“It’s just sad that it takes overseas incidents before this country takes stock of what it is doing to our mob,” Moran said.

To stream the three Yabun events, head to yabun.org.au on the 26th of January for the links, or Koori Radio 93.7FM.

 

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