Let’s be real—for a lot of Australians, the 26th of January is seen as a day of beach hangs, backyard cricket and BBQs. But the reality is that for First Nations people, it’s a day of mourning and immense pain.
We’ll be the first to admit that in the past we have celebrated what is often called “Australia Day”. But in 2020 we made a commitment to our First Nations people to do better, to educate ourselves and learn more about Australia’s true history and culture—which is why we now know that 26 January is not a date to celebrate.
We want to make big, positive steps in the right direction with you guys, our awesome readers, so let’s learn together.
We were lucky enough to catch up with two of Clothing The Gap’s biggest legends—co-founder and managing director, Laura Thompson, a proud Gunditjmara woman, and chief creative director and Narungga woman, Sianna Catullo. Despite running their booming social enterprise, elevating First Nations voices and continuing their incredible Free The Flag campaign, they were generous enough to take time out to chat with us, to help explain why Australia Day isn’t a celebration, what the day really represents and what you can do instead.
Take note, here’s what you need to know about 26 January.
Why Shouldn’t We Celebrate “Australia Day”?
While many Australian’s might believe Australia Day is a long, time-held tradition, it didn't actually become a public holiday until 1994, whatsmore is that 26 January isn’t when the first fleet arrived either. Colonists actually landed in Botany Bay somewhere between the 18th and 20th of January in 1788.
However, the 26th of January is significant… but first and foremost to Aboriginal people.
“On this day, one of the world’s biggest civil rights movements took place, led by Aboriginal people,” says Thompson. “In 1938, a group of Aboriginal people dressed in black clothing as a sign of mourning and protested against the mistreatment of Aboriginal people in so called Sydney. This date was the beginning of what would become a day of mourning for Aboriginal people and a time to reflect on our ancestors resilience and survival.”
With that in mind, you need to ask yourself, what are you really celebrating on 26 January?
“Australia Day celebrates the colonisation/invasion of this country we now call ‘Australia’ and the attempted genocide of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people leaving behind a hurtful legacy,” Thompson adds.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still experience ongoing effects and the impact of colonisation over 200 years later. This is seen in the continued racism and injustices today—though not so obvious, it is still very real.”
“Look at what systematic racism is or learn about the horrific injustices of black deaths in custody or the health gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people.”
Put simply, Australia Day ignores the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have lived on and continue to care for this Country for over 65,000 years.
What Should We Call It?
“Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people call Australia Day, Invasion Day, because it reflects colonisation and the effects it’s had on their Communities,” says Catullo. “Others call it Survival Day, a day to reflect on our resilience and survival and practice and showcase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.”
“Either way it’s a day of mourning and reflection. For Anglo-Australians, there is nothing to celebrate. Instead it should be a day of reflection, to educate themselves about the true history of this Country and consider what more they can do to support Aboriginal Australia.”
What Should We Be Doing Instead?
For starters, take time to truly acknowledge and respect that 26 January does not bring a sense of happiness that calls for celebration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Instead of setting up that inflatable pool in your backyard and smashing sausages just ‘cause, use the day to immerse yourself in Indigenous knowledge.
“There are plenty of resources, stories and platforms where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people share their culture and experience. These are valuable and offer an appreciation to the surviving and thriving legacy of the oldest living culture in the world,” says Thompson.
“Engage in truth telling and share resources with others and start having conversations with friends and family about what you’ve learnt in the process," adds Catullo. "Some of these conversations won’t be easy and can be confronting. But they are important. And remember Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience and handle this level of discomfort in society regularly.”
An epic conversation starter is Clothing The Gap's 'Not The Date To Celebrate' tee, which you can grab here. Or pick up one of their caps or tote bags and encourge your loved ones to engage in meaningful chats.
Show Your Support
In many major cities, there are Invasion/Survival Day services and rallies taking place on 26 January, so gather your mates and family members and show up, listen and support. ANTaR have created an awesome list here.
Learn What Country You’re On
“Go to work and do not acknowledge it as a public holiday,” Thompson suggests. “Learn to acknowledge the traditional Country you are on.”
Not sure? You can head here to find out. And while you're at it, why not encourage your workplace to kick off meetings with acknowledgement of country too?
Amplify Indigenous Voices
Finally, support and lift up First Nations voices. And we don’t just mean on 26 January, we mean every single day. Get started with these awesome podcasts, or these incredible films and TV shows. Spend your cash on these Indigenous-owned beauty brands and travel companies. And last but not least, check out these absolute game-changers using their voice for good.
Remember the change starts with you.
Design credit: Kate Mason