January 26 – Australia Day or Day of Mourning

“What’s on my mind?” Facebook asks.

I’ve been thinking about why I am increasingly uncomfortable with celebrating January 26 as Australia Day.

My parents arrived from England as post-war migrants. Growing up, I felt little connection to Australian, let alone indigenous, history. It wasn’t my history at all, and no-one on either side of it was any relation of mine.

In due course, my brothers and I married Australian-born women and produced children. In doing so we acquired families with longer Australian histories than our own, going back in some cases to the 1790s in NSW, the 1840s in Victoria and the 1890s in North Queensland, all well within the period of the displacement of indigenous people from their land.

At least some of our children are therefore direct descendants of settlers.

How widely their ancestry spreads is suggested by the fact that there are Afghan cameleers in two widely separated branches of our extended families, along with English, Scottish, Irish, Norwegian and German people. Our children are now becoming parents in their turn, and they have an even wider spread of family connections, some of which include indigenous heritage.

Indigenous history is no longer something I can shrug off, because now I have skin in the game.

But what I have just written is not just about me. It is true for every Australian who has been here long enough. We might assume that connections are weak because so many of us were born overseas or are children of migrants, but most of us are nevertheless deeply entangled in the history of settlement.

Most of us are beneficiaries of that settlement. For some of us its victims are family, too.

5 thoughts on “January 26 – Australia Day or Day of Mourning”

  1. Here are some points which emerged from the discussion on Facebook.


    A comment from David on the facebook post:

    The word “colonisation” describes the issue from the point of view of the English government, aristocrats and businessmen in the late 1700s. The word “invasion” describes the same event from the point of view of the indigenous inhabitants of the Hawkesbury-Nepean region at that time. … One can hardly blame the inhabitants for fighting back.

    Choosing the right words for what happened is surprisingly difficult because the English language concepts don’t match the concepts of indigenous people of the time – starting with “owning” land. Reynolds’ Why Weren’t We Told? discusses the horribly flawed legal basis of white settlement/invasion. The English claimed ownership of the whole continent long before settling any significant part of it or establishing any sort of presence, let alone control, over most of it. Even in English law that never made sense.

    ‘Conquest’ or ‘invasion’ both imply a single event. What happened here took well over 100 years, from 1788 in southern Australia to the early twentieth century in the north and west. It also suggests that the territory being taken over is governed in some recognisably centralised fashion, such that one central government is replaced by another. Furthermore, that the invaders have some legitimacy, at least in their own eyes. Here we would need to talk about a whole series of small territorial invasions; but even then most of them look more like crimes than warfare.

    ‘Colonisation’, ‘the act or process of sending people to live in and govern another country,’ seems better to me. Even the supplementary meanings apply quite well. ‘Pioneering’ and ‘settling’overlap, too, but strongly imply that there was no opposition at all, and that’s clearly not true.


    Most of the time, anyway. The good news of the last few years is that indigenous voices are being heard more often. Here we have an account of the long fight for recognition that January 26 is not a good day to celebrate the nation: sbs.com.au/nitv/article/explainer-day-of-mourning-the-birth-of-modern-first-nations-protest/j6ccrqkgb


    As I said, most of us have benefitted from the English colonisation/invasion of Australia but we are unwitting, involuntary, beneficiaries of long-past crimes. What, if any, responsibility do we bear? None for our own actions, of course, but we are receivers of stolen goods, beneficiaries of crime.

    Where the crime and the benefit are immediate and measurable, restitution is commonly considered. That doesn’t apply here. Rather, there is a more general debt hanging over us, something to bear in mind whenever we are asked whether to support improvements in the recognition and wellbeing of indigenous Australians.

  2. Broader public moves away from Australia Day:

    Major retailers Woolworths and Big W have decided not to stock Australia Day merchandise this year due to a “gradual decline in community demand”. … Reconciliation Australia, a non-profit that advocates for reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, welcomed Woolworths’ decision. “We are encouraged to see more and more Australians take time to re-evaluate what we want our national day to represent and how we can create a better country — one that all Australians, including First Nations people, are proud to celebrate,” the group said in a statement.


    1. Australian Test skipper Pat Cummins has called for a change to the date of Australia Day. Cummins has also backed Cricket Australia’s decision not to use the term “Australia Day” in marketing for the Brisbane Test.
      Cricket Australia (CA) has chosen not to brand this week’s second Test against West Indies “the Australia Day match” or use the term at the Gabba on day two on January 26.


Leave a Reply