26th January became a public holiday uniformly across all Australian states only in 1994. For many indigenous Australians, it is symbolic of the act of disposition. Yet we seem unable to have a frank and honest conversation about changing the date.
If you accept – as I do – that the Australian frontier was a violent place, and many aboriginal lives were lost in this violence, and that aboriginal Australians have suffered because of the loss of livelihood, disease, and poverty, then there is much to provoke a sense of guilt. Guilt, however, prevents constructive dialogue.
Instead, I want an honest conversation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians about our shared past and its consequences. I want to have this conversation in ways that enable us all to address a legacy of the past and create a shared future.
Whoever we are – indigenous, descendants of Settler Australians, migrants or refugees we all have a stake in our nation’s future. A generous approach to dialogue based on empathy, respect and compassion, would seek to find a date to celebrate our nationhood that is inclusive of all Australians.
First published as a letter to The Age on 16 January 2018