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Letter: Australia’s ‘Invasion Day’ debate

Tuesday 24 January 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion

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Letter: Australia’s ‘Invasion Day’ debate

Dear Editor, January 26th is a date that polarises opinion in Australia.

Since 1994 it has been a public holiday named, Australia Day. It marks the arrival of The First Fleet of 11 ships at Sydney Cove, now Circular Quay, on 26 January 1788, to set up a convict settlement in Australia.

National celebration of this date as the founding of Australia, has drawn criticism from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on the basis that it erases their history of living on the land for over 60,000 years.

The ‘terra nullius’ view of the British that the land was uninhabited, rationalised this land grab.

There is a long history of protest by First Australians, notably the Aboriginal Tent Embassy set up in Canberra on 26 January 1972 that still exists and is the longest running protest in the world.

On 26 January 1938, a group of Aboriginal men and women known as the Australian Aborigines League (AAL) gathered at Australian Hall in Sydney to protest ‘the callous treatment of our people by the whitemen during the past 150 years, …’ (AIATSIS.gov.au). They called for the government to legislate new laws and policy to provide many rights including education, health and ensure full citizen status and equality. 

It was only in 1962 that the Australian Parliament passed an act for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to enrol and vote in Federal elections and not until 1984 that they were finally treated like other voters and required to vote. Australia has a mandatory voting system.

2023 commemorates the 85th anniversary of the AAL meeting on 26 January 1938 in Sydney and is important as it is seen as the start of the civil rights movement. It is known as the Day of Mourning. There is a silent march that takes place annually to mark that meeting and floral tributes are laid at the back door of Australian Hall as the attendees were not allowed to use the front door.

Throughout Australia on 26 January, tens of thousands of people will attend Invasion Day rallies to continue the fight for civil rights for Indigenous Australians and to demand their land rights. 

Currently up for debate is ‘The Indigenous Voice to Parliament’ that seeks to give Aboriginal communities a route to help inform government policy and legal decisions that impact their lives. Non-Indigenous people say this is divisive; Indigenous people say it is limited.

Land rights is at the core of the fight for justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Mabo case recognising the rights of the Meriam people over their land was granted in 1992 and ‘Native Title’ challenged the doctrine of ‘terra nullius’ that dispossessed indigenous people of their land. 

Unlike New Zealand, there has never been a treaty to recognise sovereignty. 

The pathway to reconciliation and justice in Australia is blocked by this omission. 

Treaty before Voice.

 Meitaki and Kia manuia,

Jacki Crummer Brown

Turangi

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