Lifestyle / Making Lemonade / Travel

Making Lemonade #17: Sour lemons

Is January 26th the right time to Make Lemonade?

Cross-posted from SubstackView original post

Hey friends,

Thanks for being here, as always. This email is a little bit of a departure from my usual style, but it’s on a topic that is important to me, especially now I am a permanent resident in the country now known as Australia.

Yesterday, I received an email four years in the making telling me that my application for permanent residency has now been granted.

I’ve been waiting so long for this day and to finally have arrived here feels like such a relief. But, it’s also tinged with complicated emotions, given the timing of it; I want to celebrate my personal milestone, but I don’t want to be part of the divisive, complex, and colonial country-wide “celebration” that takes place on January 26th.

And so, as a writer who writes to process things, I decided I’d dedicate today’s post to writing about said complicated emotions and the importance of acknowledging those who have come before us

Should certain days be designated “lemon” days rather than “lemonade” days?

Ever since I arrived here, my awe, admiration, and respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their history and culture has only grown. And I want to use this place as a way to honour all the lives lost, pain, suffering, and horrendous atrocities that have paved the way for my being here now. Because I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them.

None of us would. 

And, as grateful as I am to finally be allowed to stay in the country I now call home, I can’t help but grieve everything that has been lost and the mess that we find ourselves in as a result of the actions of my colonialist and colonist ancestors. 

A mess that extends far beyond this country, and out into the world. A mess that is still leading to the deaths of millions of people, seized land, rapidly exacerbated climate change, and an ever-growing wealth divide. All of which is still being supported by colonialist governments today.

I guess some things never change.

For the record, this is not going to become a political page. But to me, this isn’t about politics, it’s about honouring, recognising, and appreciating the stories of our past – and not just the ones told by the victors. It’s about seeing all sides of the stories, and not just the ones the media tells us.

It’s about seeing our humanness in everyone. The oppressed and the oppressors, because without seeing the oppressors as humans too, we can’t expect things to change.

And we need things to change. 

Right now, we’re collectively standing on the edge of many life-and-land-threatening crises, including the aforementioned climate change.

Some of the world’s best scientists have said that Indigenous wisdom is one of the best hopes we have for managing it and being able to pass down this beautiful fertile life-supporting planet we know and love to future generations.

But, in order to do that, we also have to collectively change our opinions towards First Nations people around the world. 

And nowhere is this opinion more obvious and apparent than Australia. And at no time is this more obvious and apparent than “Australia Day”.

People have many reasons for believing the things that they do. For wanting the things they want. For supporting the things they support.

Things like “Australia Day” are so deeply entrenched in some people’s psyches and nationalistic identity that they feel like it’s a personal attack if anyone dare suggest changing the date, abolishing the date, or expanding their comprehension of this date to encompass all Australians – especially the ones who existed on this land long before the ones who celebrate said date arrived.

Yet, this goes far beyond a date.

people gathering on street during daytime
Photo by Johan Mouchet on Unsplash

So what is the date and what is the controversy?

On the 26th January 1788, British captain Arthur Philip landed the First Fleet in NSW’s Sydney Cove. He then raised the flag, supposedly following in the footsteps of Captain Cook, who is said to have raised the flag on Possession Island in 1770, declaring the land “terra nullius” – property belonging to no one. 

Well, until he claimed it for the crown, of course.

When people say things like “sovereignty was never ceded”, it’s because the land was taken by force and held by force. Whichever side of these debates you fall on, this is a fact.

There has never been a treaty between First Nations people who lived here for 65,000 years, or the people who sailed a ship over here, walked onto the beach, stuck a flag in the sand saying it was theirs, and then tried to kill all the people who said otherwise.

But, I digress.

During the 19th century, January 26th was a celebration of “Britishness” of Australian Britons. Also known as “Foundation Day”, the celebration started in NSW, but by 1888 all the colonies (except South Australia) had also adopted it as a celebration date.

Despite this, though, the primary national holiday was a different day known as “Empire Day”. Held to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Birthday on May 24th, the holiday was all about celebrating the British Empire – fun fact, the monarch’s birthday is still a public holiday today.

The push to have an Australian national holiday actually came about in 1915 as a fundraising attempt during the First World War. It was held on July 30th, before moving to July 28th the following year.

By 1935, the state governments agreed to move the date of the celebration to January 26th and to repackage it as Australia Day – although it wasn’t actually officially recognised across all states and territories until 1994.

It was a controversial choice from the get-go.

Since 1938, January 26th has also been a declared Day of Mourning by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The same year, incidentally, when they were forced to participate in a reenactment of the First Fleet landing, and “celebrate” their colonial overlords.

Yeah, the exact same ones that had spent the previous 150 years embarking on a series of state-sanctioned massacres and campaigns to steal children to kill off and/or whitewash the population and erase more than 65,000 years of history, culture, and knowledge.

Unsurprisingly, that trauma has been passed down through generations. So too has the colonial mindset. And each year, the discrimination and divisiveness comes to a head on “Australia Day”.

Still, despite the failure of the Voice referendum, the tides are slowly starting to change as people are waking up to the truth. The internet and social media have made it much harder to put on the rose-tinted beer goggles and party like it’s 1935.

people in black and brown hat standing on street during daytime
Photo by Stewart Munro on Unsplash

Over the last few years, support for Australia Day has dropped by record numbers, falling from 70% to 56% in just five years

This year, one of the two main supermarkets announced they would stop selling Australia Day products. There were dawn Invasion Day rallies through the capital cities and Survival Day protests around the country.

SBS created an Always Was, Always Will Be Collection featuring First Nations documentaries, movies, and TV shows. Some businesses even allowed their employees to work and instead take another day off in lieu. 

There are several different opinions about where to go from here, though.

Some want the date to be changed to include everyone but the sentiment of celebrating Australia to remain the same – the “change the date” camp.

Others want to “abolish the date” and “change the nation”, and for people to understand that you can’t celebrate a country that was built on stolen land and on the blood of all those who came before us without actually acknowledging that first.

I’m absolutely in that latter camp. Because as much as I love my new homeland, it is a deeply problematic country (just like the one I was born in).

I had to think long and hard about whether I even wanted to apply for permanent residency to begin with. About what it would say about me that I was trying to “buy” my way into living here (applying for permanent residency is often a prohibitively expensive and complicated process that has problems of its own).

Ultimately, I decided it was worth it to be one of those people campaigning for change. To be in the 44%. To put my privilege to good use and to fight and stand up for the things I believe in. 

brown house with solar board in deser
Photo by Alessia Francischiello on Unsplash

And so, here I am. Feeling fortunate to be here, fortunate to be able to fight for justice for First Nations people here and around the world, and fortunate to be able to use my privilege and my voice for good.

But as for celebrating my own right to be here… Well, I guess that will have to wait for another day.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate you.

Love always,

Cassie xx

For further reading, check out these articles: 

The Conversation: Australia Day wasn’t always January 26, but it was always an issue
The Conversation: Support for Australia Day celebration on January 26 drops: new research
IndigenousX: Post-referendum Invasion Day: Let’s not bring back #changethedate
SBS: Joy or pain? Australia’s not the only country with a controversial national day
The Guardian: The killing times: the massacres of Aboriginal people Australia must confront
ABC: What Australians often get wrong about our most (in)famous explorer, Captain Cook

I also highly recommend these books by First Nations authors:

After Australia, edited by Michael Mohammed Ahmad (2020)
Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe (2014)
Fire Country: How Indigenous Fire Management Could Help Save Australia, Victor Steffensen, (2020)
Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, edited by Dr Anita Heiss (2018)
Living on Stolen Land, Ambelin Kwaymullina (2020)
My Tidda, My Sister, Marlee Silva (2020)
Sand Talk, Tyson Yunkaporta (2020)
Talking to My Country, Stan Grant (2016)
Tell Me Why, Archie Roach (2020)
Terra Nullius, Claire F. Coleman (2017)
The Dreaming Path, Dr Paul Callaghan with Uncle Paul Gordon (2022)
The First Astronomers: How Indigenous Elders Read The Stars, Duane Hamacher (2022)

The First Knowledges series edited by Margo Neale:
Astronomy: Sky Country, Karlie Noon & Krysyal De Napoli (2022)
Country: Future Fire, Future Farming, Bruce Pascoe & Bill Gammage, (2021)
Design: Building on Country, Alison Page & Paul Memmott (2021)
Innovation: Knowledge & Ingenuity, Ian J McNiven & Lynette Russell (2023)
Law: The Way of the Ancestors, Marcia Langton & Aaron Corn (2023)
Plants: Past, Present and Future, Zena Cumpston, Michael-Shawn Fletcher, and Lesley Head, (2022)
Songlines: The Power and Promise, Margo Neale & Lynne Kelly (2020)

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