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January 29, 2023

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Invasion, Survival and Mourning Day

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Ella Noah Bancroft is the guest writer for this weeks Soapbox

By Ella Noah Bancroft

Invasion, Survival and Mourning Day. Every year since I was born my bones and body have felt awkward on 26 January. In my youth I found refuge at Yabun, a Survival Day festival, which is held in Sydney City at Victoria Park. It provided a space for me to celebrate the continuation of our culture as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; to celebrate the blood that runs through my veins that binds me to the longest living culture on the entire planet. A place where I could be both sad and happy.

While all the other Sydney streets, shops or places were flying the Australian flag, here in the heart of the city, surrounded by trees, I was held by the community, our flag was flying and there was softness inside of me as I felt part of something and not excluded.

Why does 26 January create so much anger, sadness and frustration? Because it’s a day that is not inclusive. It’s a day that celebrates inequality in this country. It’s a day that says 97 per cent of our population can celebrate the injustices done to thousands and thousands of innocent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the name of advancement and expansion of the British Empire. Through celebration the nation is condoning the continual attempt to destroy Indigenous culture, lands, waters and our more-than-human kin.

Ask any sociologist and they will tell you that inequality breeds hate, sadness and war. Imagine you’re at home about to eat dinner with your family, a group of uninvited people arrive at your house with alcohol in hand, invite themselves in, remove your children from the dinner table, remove you from the dinner table and take their own seats at your dinner table, announcing to you and your family that your house is now theirs and that your food is now theirs.

Imagine they shoot your grandparents, they take your partner as a slave and now you stand outside of your home cold, hungry and alone.

Imagine how you would feel? Then imagine every year that same house throws a big house party and you’re expected to show up and enjoy the combined smell of sunscreen, sweat, sausages, beer and the sounds of Triple J that now permeate what was once your balanced home.

The smells of colonisation, the smell of the culture known as Australia. A combination of VB and toxic masculine sweat.

I recently heard a great joke from a friend; what is the difference between modern day Australia and yoghurt? Yoghurt has culture!

And it’s true. We are asked, as all peoples, to celebrate the most immature culture on this planet and completely ignore the longest lasting, most advanced, complex, creative and sustainable culture in history on the entire planet.

‘Australians’ can do better

It’s not just us, the Indigenous population asking for change, it’s millions of allies too. We are all awakening to the true value of our Indigenous history, knowledge and culture that preserved and helped the natural world thrive pre British invasion.

26 January is a day of mourning and loss for so many people across this continent. It’s not just a day of mourning for Indigenous people. It should be a day of mourning for all peoples; the day of mourning for what we have all lost – our birthright to live within a system of balance, reciprocity, connection, equity and harmony.

To celebrate this day is to say: ‘I celebrate discrimination, inequality, and climate change. I celebrate politicians’ ever-growing wallets, big corporations who don’t pay taxes, capitalism, mining and extraction of resources, incarceration of children, the degradation of soils, land and waters and I celebrate attempted genocide and the continual theft of land, culture and children.’

So what will you celebrate on 26 January? An immature hybrid Australian culture that draws from the worst of American and British culture combined? To celebrate a culture that breeds addiction, extraction, greed and individualism? Or will you sit with us by the waters, meet us on the land at Main Beach, Byron Bay and commemorate the wars, the loss, the grief; and celebrate the continuation of one of the most important cultures to survive on this planet?

A note from Mandy Nolan:
For 21 years I have written this opinion piece. I have never missed a week. Every year I write about why Australia Day needs to be moved to another date. But in writing that I am still a white woman occupying space. So this week I have invited Bundjalung woman and Director of The Returning Indigenous Corporation to write the Soapbox. Please don’t congratulate me. It’s the least I can do. This year I encourage those of us with platforms to step aside and demonstrate allyship by handing over to First Nations voices. It’s time for us to listen.


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25 COMMENTS

  1. Spot on Ella! I’m an old, crusty white guy who grew up in the area and I do find the “good ol’ boys” aspect of January 26 pretty cringeworthy. The colonial cult that you write about so eloquently is being challenged and examined by a lot of thoughtful people. It’s a conversation that is going to take a while to complete, though. The issue needs to remain in the public eye through the Voice campaign.

  2. Yes it’s all become a bit rancid. But I agree the cringeworthy feeling towards nationalism is a real Aussie trait. I feel it too. Much the same as when I meet “virtue signalling” Pommies who have recently bought $multi-mil properties in Byron.
    The family were NSW “pioneers” back when NSW was most of eastern Australia AND New Zealand.
    But, I might just quietly sit in the corner, re-read my well thumbed copy of Arthur W. Jose’s “History of Australia”( signed by all the luminaries of the RAHS mid last century) and weep…
    I was always waiting for QEII to apologise for taking Country, maybe Chukka will…

  3. Thank you Ella. This says it all so simply and clearly. I’m ongoingly ashamed of our lack of culture as a so-called nation and the ongoing erosion of so much that we should be so proud of and consider so precious and valuable. I’ve always felt it is a total privilege to be here in this sacred sacred land. Huge respect and gratitude to all those beings who have kept Indigenous cultures and spirit strong throughout and despite.

  4. Lets celebrate at least that Indigenous people now are, per percentage of population , over represented in the Federal Parliament , how is that not progressive? is this not a meaningful voice?, there is more to celebrate than grievance and victimhood.

    • This would be hilarious if the lot of First Nations People wasn’t so shameful, this sort of vindication of all the years of First Nations People coming last due to being ‘under represented’.
      First Nations People have been coming last for 235 years for a reason, we keep on keeping them there.

  5. January 26th 1788, is “British penal colony day”, a day for the British, by the British, celebrated by British monarchist bent on keeping Australia, permanently British! It has nothing to do with Australia or its people as a nation, PERIOD!
    We all should be asking the question, “Why is Australia forbidden to even ask, why we are not permitted to have our own real National day? January 1st, 1901 when those British colonies were dissolved and federated into the Commonwealth of Australia along with our constitution, which has since had referendums to recognise all Australians! This the only day at present that could ever be an Australian National day. We must all come together as a nation and vote “YES for a Voice to Parliament”. Put away the hate thats is being spread like a virus by Dutton’s LNP and it’s corrupted media giving him and other deplorable bent on obstruction and division a platform to do so. If Dutton and some sections of our media were around in 1901, no doubt they would have spread their hate and misinformation and attempted to obstruct the Australian Commonwealth from ever being, just as they oppose everything? Well, may we all ask, what is unAustralian behaviour, just look at Dutton the LNP and their divisive, manipulating misinforming, media protection racket?

  6. Jan 26 has got nothing to do with the British occupation of this bloody big island we call Australia .
    In fact Cook arrived here in late April .
    Australia Day celebrates our departure from British rule in 1949 after our mob had been used as British cannon fodder in their 2 World Wars we no longer had to go to their defence in time of war .
    I am not amused that Australia then signed the ANZUS Treaty that requires Australia to do the same again when ever the US start another War .We should have declared neutrality .
    As well as that it gave all our people of all skin colour the right to call ourselves Australian that we be deemed equal in all facets of our lives .
    It would be nice if the editor showed the actual document for all to read showing what I have written .

  7. Let’s keep the public holiday where it is as a day of recognition for all. Of the destruction, massacres and dispossession of the original inhabitants and country- as well as the enslavement and decrepitude the occupiers and their prisoners suffered. And create a new public holiday to celebrate a new positive, freedom loving, conscious way forward. A reminder to us all that our re-enslavement and demise is only just around the corner if we don’t all collectively reject increasing government overreach and corporate tyranny.

  8. I am following you, Neville and Ella. Years back many promoted ‘We Call For A Treaty’ written by Judith Wright.
    It’s been a long time wait for power’s acceptance.

  9. I’m going to guess Ella is +90% British. If I was standing next to her you would think that I am the Aboriginal.

  10. I don’t believe in ‘put downs’ Christian. Try working with First Nation people & learn to apologize who has a colour problem.

    • When I tell you how they really use to live, or that the loud mouths are White people larping as Black, or point out the grievance industrial complex, or that genetics dominate behaviour thus black people aren’t very good at being White people, etc, I’m not invalidating real Aboriginal people. They are what they are, as we are what we are, we have evolved to have different survival strategies thus different genetics inter alia, that’s all. I’m attacking the race baiters that weaponise Aboriginals for personal gain and as a tool for their vilification and demonisation of White ethnicities for a power grab. They are not the friends of Aboriginals, they harm them. But I still hold Aboriginals to the same standards as any other group, just the black version there of, cause they are black.

      • Bruce needs to get out in the sun more. Maybe go camping once in a while. Maybe he’ll find an Aboriginal Moon Rocket.

  11. See Ooderoo Noonuccal – Kath Walker – who wrote over 30 books. She was an artist, children’s writer, & activist.
    It can’t be said she was unmotivated through WW 2 along with her own input.

  12. Sorry. Touch off the path of the article, but a little recount from my heart if it matters. I grew up with Jan 26 as a day of celebration of this country. My home. My country that, thank God, is still a safe country. On Australia Day 1988 (the first real celebrated Australia Day), I quit my little casual job so I could attend the bi-centenary celebration on Sydney Harbour and watch the huge fireworks and ships sale on the Harbour as I couldn’t find another staff member to take my shift. That’s how important the first real Australia Day celebration was to me and others back in 1988. Nobody wanted to work that day, nobody wanted to miss out on a 200 year celebration and not go to Sydney Harbour. The day was advertised in the papers and ads on TV. It got people excited. Everybody I knew was going to Sydney Harbour to join in the bicentenary celebrations, watch the ships, the convict re-enactments at The Rocks and huge fireworks on Sydney Harbour. There must have been hundreds of thousands of people celebrating in Sydney and in boats on the Harbour. I had never seen Sydney so cramped, alive and on fire as that day and well into the night. Circular Quay was insane. I remember a lot of sparklers being lit that night. I appreciate the true Indigenous of this country and what their ancestors would have gone through with the arrival of the First Fleet. Tragic, yes it is tragic. I am of Yugoslav and German heritage so have been told stories too both sides of my family of World War 1, World War 2 and Yugoslav Civil War. War is common on both sides of my family. One of my Grandfathers was a Serbian Freedom Fighter and the other a German soldier. My Oma used to feed the German soldiers, they would come banging on her door, she would always have a pot of soup ready on her stove in case they came. The Aboriginals were taught to me in school in 3rd grade. I can still see the printouts we were given to stick in our workbooks… I haven’t forgotten what I was taught about January 26 with the arrival of the First Fleet as a pupil. I won’t forget that magical day of celebration of the bicentenary either and nobody can take it from me and the other proud Aussies on Sydney Harbour that day. We celebrated this wonderful continent, not the invasion, the invasion wasn’t advertised, but a huge celebration was. I love the Aboriginal flag as I love the Australian flag. Let both fly in harmony and safety. Let us move the date to celebrate this still safe country and to help the true offended Aboriginal descendants feel peace from a celebration. Let them respectfully have their day of mourning from the arrival of the First Fleet on 26 January if it helps them. Let’s keep teaching the kids at school maybe a little more than I was taught in the 70’s and keep this great country a SAFE country. There is a lot to be happy about and move forward to if we were given a new date to celebrate our still safe nation. World War 3 and the next invasion might be just around the corner. Seriously, the British First Fleet are going to look insignificant then and we all know it. God help us.

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