Is it Survival/Invasion Day or Australia Day?

Is it Survival/Invasion Day or Australia Day?

Is it a commemoration or celebration?

Was it Settlement or Invasion?

But for Australia Day to have relevance to both points of view, it must be all embracing.

The following information provides historical and contemporary thought on these questions:

•             European Values

•             The Past

•             January 26 – An Overview

•             The Aboriginal Flag

•             Torres Strait Islander Flag

•             1988 Onwards – A Turning Point

•             Garma, the Present and Future

•             Democracy means a fair go for all

•             References

•             Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s ‘sorry’ address

European Values

Contemporary Australia has many social justice and human rights issues that are a result of policies and practices originating in the 18th century. It was a world of different values, attitudes and beliefs to those of contemporary society. 18th century Europe practiced slavery, and child labour was common; astrology was a university subject and disease was linked to superstitions, not bacteria; the idea that Europeans were superior because of their religion, cities and technologies; the rule of kings and nobles was the dominant form of government; modern ideas of democracy were taking shape to burst onto the world stage at the end of the century; and the idea of terra nullius (an empty land) was a recognised international protocol. Doctrines of racism applied in practice throughout the world in their colonies. The world was there to be taken: land, resources and people.

The invasion of the Cadigal people’s land was part of a world-wide process in the Europeans’ grab for the land, resources and people. It was nationalist rivalry that drove this land-grab. As part of this process, the cultural norms and values of those Europeans travelled with them.

So the European values, beliefs and attitudes were imported with the colonisation. This is a natural phenomenon: all people take their personal and cultural identity with them where ever they travel. Therefore, all sections of Colonial and Australian society participated in the many different policies and practices that discriminated against Indigenous Australians by way of assuming their values were superior to those of the original inhabitants. These policies and practices were the same the world over. A number of European nations participated in some form of imperialism over indigenous peoples throughout the world.

However, not all people believed the dominant thinking, some people married out of their culture, some people formed friendship out of their culture; but many people did believe the dominant thinking because they were institutionally exposed to it (such as at school) and therefore exhibited prejudices; and successive governments reflected the prejudices in our laws and our practices.

Take this quick quiz.

Q: Name and describe the two recognised Indigenous flags.

A: The Aboriginal Flag – it is divided horizontally into equal halves of black (top), red (bottom) and a yellow circle in the middle. The black is said to represent the people, the yellow represents the sun and the red represents the earth/land and the blood that was shed.

The Torres Strait Islander Flag – it has three horizontal stripes with green at the top and bottom and blue in between divided by thin black lines. A white dharri or deri sits in the centre with a five pointed star underneath. The green is said to represent the land and the blue sea, the black line and the dharri head dress the people and the five pointed star the five island groups.

Q: What event did William Cooper and William Ferguson organise? What were the objectives of this event?

A: 1938 protest. The objective of the protest was to have Indigenous people recognised as citizens.

In 1932, William Cooper formed the Australian Aboriginal League in Melbourne in protest to the conditions under which Aboriginal people were forced to live and draft a petition to King George V.

In 1937, William Ferguson launched the Aboriginal Progressive Association (APA).

Together, they planned the 1st day of mourning in 1938, which was the 150th Anniversary of the First Fleet landing in Sydney Cove.

Q: Who was the first indigenous Australian to be awarded the Australian of the Year Award?

A: 1968 – Lionel Rose

Q: Name one contemporary Aboriginal artist from NSW.

A: Gordon Syron

Others include:

– Shirley Amos

– Marion Coghlal

– Robin Bailey

– Jingalu

– Euphemia Bostock

– Josie Haines

– Tracey Bostock

– Treanna Hamm

– Denise Brown

– Leeanne Hunter

– Robyn Caughlan

– Joanna Clancy

– Isobell Coe

Q: How many sovereign Aboriginal nations are in modern NSW?

A: 70

Q: Name five Aboriginal nations in NSW.

A: Cadigal, Kurrajong, Boorooberongal, Muru-ora-dial, Tagary

Q: What is the Dreaming?

A: Law of lore

The understanding the past, as well as the debates of today, come from the knowledge of how and why these policies and practices were dominant for so long in our society. It is about the knowledge of the storylines of our histories.

The Dreaming means identity as people. It is complex knowledge, faith and practices that derive from stories of creation and which dominates all spiritual and physical aspects of Aboriginal life. The Dreaming sets out the structures of society, the rules of social behaviour and the ceremonies performed in order to maintain the life of the land.

The Past

Once upon a Dreamtime the people roam,

Land shaping the people as they ever shape the Land

Black is Dreaming

Black is free

Australia has always been multicultural. It has about 250 sovereign Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations. Each nation always embraces change, as the Dreaming is about the living land, the Land, the mother. Moreover, Australia has seen many changes since the Dreaming began.

The balance of the law and the lore are inherent in all nations. Thus the synergy of the Land and people remains. Over many 1000s of years Indigenous people have continued to adapt to new ways. It is inherent in the Dreaming.

In northern Australia, Aboriginal and Macassan peoples, from Indonesia, influenced each other’s cultures over 400 years ago. The evidence is seen in the language of the Yirrala area where there are about 400 borrowed words from Macassan; in Arnhem Land there are songs about Macassans; and smoking of Malay, or Macassan, pipes. Recent evidence show groups in Victoria developed an extensive eel smoking industry for export to other nations. All have adapted to fire, flood, drought the extremes that are Australia.

Since 1788 there have been an extra 170 cultures added to the original cultures. In contemporary Australia there are over 400 language groups. This is a unique position in the world as the meaning and expression of cultures has changed, again.

Moreover, Indigenous people are still adapting and re-inventing the culture. New expressions blending urban, rural and traditional culture are evident in the storylines of modern Australia.

Nevertheless, it must be remembered that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations had change forced upon them with the coming of European laws, values and social constructs.


Black metal kills Dreaming


Black metal violence

White control : gun

Black control : MotherEarth

White control : fence

Black control : clan voice

White control : poverty

Black control : clan life

New South Wales nations bore the brunt of forced change.

Impact of the smallpox epidemic on the Cadigal people.

Soon after he (Arabanoo) was taken the smallpox raged among them (the natives) with great fury and carried off great numbers of them. Every boat that went down the harbour found them laying dead on the beaches and in the caverns of rock forsaken by the rest as soon as the disease is discovered.

Irvine, N. (ed.), (1988), The Sirius letters. The Complete Letters of Newton Fowell 1786 -1790 p.113

The frontier war: not written in the histories nor taught to generations of Australians.

Lord John Russell to Sir George Gipps:

You cannot overrate the solicitude of H.M. Government on the subject of the Aborigines of New Holland. It is impossible to contemplate the condition or the prospects of the unfortunate race without the deepest commiseration. Still it is impossible that the Government should forget that the original aggression was ours.

Despatch 21 December 1838

Historical Records of Australia Series I Vol. XX p 440.

Official Government Policy of the 1880s for the status of Aboriginal children in NSW schools. This was not removed as an official policy from the NSW Department of Education until 1972, when challenged in court:

The Department of Public Instruction’s policy became dependent on local attitudes: child whatever its creed or colour or circumstance ought be excluded from a public school. But cases may arise, especially amongst the Aboriginal tribes, where the admission of a child or children may be prejudicial to the whole school.

George Reid, Minister for Education 1883

Unpublished NSW Department of Education and Training Paper.

The maltreatment of Aboriginal peoples on missions in the 20th century:

… In 1934 John Howard, the new manager of Stoney Gully station was instructed to use ‘any reasonable means’ to end the dispute at Lismore between Aboriginal people and town whites….

Howard, on his first visit to Tuncester, stopped the rations completely, starved the inhabitants, acting on instructions by his Board… He then attempted to bluff the people, saying the Aborigines Protection Board is forcing them to another reserve and if they didn’t comply with his instructions he, or the Board, would take the children away from their parents. Next step was to demolish the school at Tuncester and move it to another settlement 52 miles away. The result is now thirty-five children are without a school.

Words cannot express what is scandalous treatment by the Destruction Board.

Quoted in Goodall, H. (1996), Invasion to Embassy: Land in Aboriginal Politics in New South Wales, 1770-1972, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, NSW, p220

The culmination of the exclusion policies led the racism of omission and paternalism. This is reflected in the 1960s in the books and encyclopaedias of the time:

Native Peoples

When white settlement of Australia began in 1788 the continent was sparsely inhabited by only about 800,000 very primitive people. They were short, with black, wavy hair and chocolate-brown skin, wore no clothing, had no domestic animals except the dingo, and had tools and weapons made only of wood or stone. They had no permanent homes, but moved from place to place hunting and gathering wild fruits and nuts for food.

Their way of life was a good adjustment to their environment but the coming of the white man upset the balance. Diseases new to them took a heavy toll and today there are only about 52,000 and they are rapidly decreasing. Those who are able to adjust to white man’s ways are valued as expert hunters and trackers. They can follow even the faintest trail, know every possible source of water in the desert, and are of great value to the police.

Britannica Junior 1961, Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. United Kingdom pp. 467-468

In the 1990s came government recognition of the past:

The Redfern Park Statement

And, as I say, the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians.

It begins, I think, with that act of recognition

Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing.

We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life.

We brought the diseases. The alcohol.

We committed the murders.

We took the children from their mothers.

We practised discrimination and exclusion.

It was our ignorance and our prejudice.

And our failure to imagine these things being done to us.

With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds.

We failed to ask – how would I feel if this were done to me?

Speech by the Hon. the Prime Minister, P.J. Keating, MP 10 December 1992 Australian launch of the international year for the world’s indigenous peoples.

As always, it’s those that inherit the past that are left to deal with the consequences of events, policies and practices. All Australians are left to face the facts from the past.

It is estimated that some 2,500 European settlers and police died in this conflict. For the Aboriginal inhabitants the cost was far higher: about 20,000 are believed to have been killed in the wars of the frontier, while many thousands more perished from disease and other unintended consequences of settlement. Aboriginal Australians were unable to restrain – though in places they did delay – the tide of European settlement; although resistance in one form or another never ceased, the conflict ended in their dispossession.

Resistance took many forms. People like Pemwulwuy, William Cooper and Gary Foley have led the fight. Events like the presenting of Yirrkala bark petitions 1963, the sesqui-centenary protests, freedom rides of the 1960s, tent embassy of the 1970s, land rights marches of the 1970s and 1980s, Deaths in Custody protests of the 1980s and High Court challenges by Mabo and the Wik peoples of the 1990s reflect the commitment to the fight for the sovereign rights taken at the time of invasion / colonisation.


Is the 26th of January Survival/Invasion Day or Australia Day?

Was it Settlement or Invasion?

Is it a commemoration or celebration?

To many Indigenous peoples there is little to celebrate and it is a commemoration of a deep loss. Loss of their sovereign rights to their Land and the right to practice their culture.

For those Australians who are passionate about the English view it is a celebration of great achievements.

For Australia Day to have relevance to both points of view it must embrace both. For it is about both. It is about the loss of Indigenous land and sovereignty and about the achievements of past and present Australians.

To achieve the balance there has to be an honest remembrance of the past, for it

too has its good as well as the bad.

January 26 – An Overview

The choice of 26 January as the day of celebration for all Australians has been queried and argued from a historical and practical viewpoint from the 1800s. That the day might symbolise invasion, dispossession and death to many Aboriginal people was a concept alien to the average Australian until even the latter half of the 20th century. The Editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald of 2 January 1995, arguing for a change of date, stated that January 26 “can never be a truly national day for it symbolises to many Aborigines the date they were conquered and their lands occupied. This divisive aspect to 26 January, the commemoration of the landing at Sydney Cove will never be reconciled”.

Involvement of the Indigenous community on Australia Day has taken many forms – forced participation in re-enactments, mourning for Invasion Day, peaceful protest through to an acknowledgment of survival and an increasing participation in community events at a local level.

By 1888, the year of the centenary celebrations, the white population had increased significantly while the Aboriginal population had declined from at least 750,000 in 1788 to a mere estimated 67,000. (Aboriginal people were not counted in the census until after 1967). The 1888 Centenary events overwhelmingly celebrated British and Australian achievement and as Nigel Parbury writes in his book Survival: ”In 1888 Aboriginals boycotted the Centenary celebrations. Nobody noticed.”

By 1938, the Aboriginal community was becoming well organised in the white ways and able to make strong demands for political rights and equality. An Australian Aborigines League (AAL) had been formed in 1932 and this was followed in 1937 by the Aborigines Progressive Association (APA), a group that began to achieve publicity in the press and addressed a variety of groups such as the NSW Labor Council.

The AAL leader William Cooper and the APA’s leader William Ferguson, were instrumental in organising the Day of Mourning Committee for the 1938 Sesquicentenary celebrations. A manifesto, Aborigines Claim Citizen Rights, was published and on Australia Day a conference and protest were held in the Australian Hall, Sydney. Five days later, the APA led an Aboriginal delegation to meet with the Prime Minister and soon after Australia Day, the Committee for Aboriginal Citizen Rights was formed.

The Aboriginal community’s push for recognition was highlighted by the 1938 official Australia Day celebrations. Due to a refusal to cooperate by city-based Aborigines, the government imported Aborigines from western communities, locking them up in a stable at Redfern Police Barracks. Immediately following the re-enactment, the group featured on a float in the huge parade in Macquarie Street. The following day they were “sent back to their tin sheds on the Darling River”.

Re-enactments of Phillip’s landing continued to be an accepted part of Australia Day ceremonies around the country and it wasn’t until the Bicentennial in 1988 that the New South Wales government refused to condone a re-enactment as part of their official proceedings.

In 1968, the National Australia Day Council announced the first Aboriginal recipient of its Australian of the Year Award – Lionel Rose.

Other Indigenous award recipients since then have included more sporting personalities: Evonne Goolagong in 1971, Galarrwuy Yunupingu (1978) , Mark Ella (1982), Dr. Lowitja O’Donoghue AM, CBE (1984), Cathy Freeman (1990) Mandawuy Yunupingu (1992) and Nova Peris-Kneebone (1997). In 1995, the recipient of the inaugural National Australia Day Council’s Community of the Year Award was the Jawoyn Association, recognising a decade of achievement by the traditional owners of the Katherine region in the Northern Territory.

Australia Day 1972 was marked by Prime Minister William McMahon’s announcement of his government’s Aboriginal policy, against the advice of the Council for Aboriginal Affairs. The frustration within the Aboriginal community found expression on the afternoon of Australia Day 1972 when a tent appeared on the lawns in front of Parliament House – to become known as the Aboriginal Tent Embassy – The Aboriginal black, red and yellow flag designed by Luritja artist Harold Thomas was to become a national symbol.

1988 Onwards – A Turning Point

The 1988 Bicentenary Australia Day celebrations in Sydney were marked by a huge and well-organised gathering and protest march by the Aboriginal community, many of whom had travelled to Sydney from all over the country.

Significant numbers of the non-Aboriginal communities joined the gathered Aboriginals to create a crowd of around 40,000 people who marched from Redfern Oval to Hyde Park for a public rally. Aboriginal activist Gary Foley commented about the gathering: black and white Australians together in harmony…… this is what we have always said Australia could be.

Many Aborigines who took part in the Bicentennial marches felt they would like to have an alternative celebration of how their history and culture had survived. The first Survival concert, held in 1992, really began from those early concepts and reflected a major shift away from the traditionally-named Australia Day to Invasion Day.

The Survival Concerts, now one of the biggest Aboriginal cultural events of the year, have been entirely initiated and coordinated by the Aboriginal community. La Perouse hosted the concerts for many years. This, the first place of European contact, has also had continuous Aboriginal occupation for thousands of years before 1788 and played a crucial role in the coming together of the Aboriginal community for the huge 1988 march.

Regionally across New South Wales, an increasing number of Indigenous communities are participating in their local Australia/Survival/Invasion Day ceremonies and celebrations. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags are raised alongside the Australian flag. High profile Aboriginal people take the role of key-note speakers for the Australia Day Council, as well as local Australia Day Committees.

In 2001 250,000 Sydney-siders marched across the Harbour Bridge to demonstrate their support for Reconciliation. Their message was that we begin to reconcile the past by walking and talking together.

This same spirit is seen in the Sea of Hands ( Over 250,000 people have signed their name to plastic hands, which are displayed to show their support for Native Title and Reconciliation.

In 2003 the Australia Day Council of NSW, in partnership with the Cadigal people, held the Woggan-ma-gule, Farm Cove Morning Ceremony. It is a Shark Dreaming site for the Cadigal people where land and water meet.

All contemporary events that people participated in show change in our society. The change has been slow but it is here. If we do a snapshot from the early 1960s, when texts were saying that Aboriginal people were dying out and paternalism was dominant then we see it.

Garma, the Present and Future

The Woggan-ma-gule ceremony on 26 January 2003, followed by traditional celebrations, reflects the values, beliefs and attitudes of many contemporary Australians, that a commemoration is an appropriate part of the day. It is recognition that the storylines of the past are full of pain because of the dispossession; but it also represents the many Indigenous and non-Indigenous people active in making the present and the future one of respect. Respect for the values and traditions of the 250 Indigenous nations in Australia and 170 other language groups.

The 1990s saw a shift in our shared history. The hurt and anguish of past policies became evident as the decade went on. The decade began with the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. This was followed by the release of the report on the Stolen Generations. Both provided damning evidence of the past policies that had been too slowly removed since 1967. They show that the racist policies and practices were not in the distant past but rather in the living memory of many, many Australians and their effects still resonated deeply within many parts of the Australian community. This recognition of the past, again should not be about blame, rather about truth and reconciliation if we as a nation want change: change not only in government policies and practices but also in all levels of society.

Change, after all, was forced on the governments with the historic High Court decisions, Mabo and Wik. These reflected a new approach to the past – they recognised the truth that the land was occupied – it was not terra nullius (land belong to no-one). They removed the legal basis upon which the Europeans had invaded. There was panic, as most people did not, and still do not understand the decision, nor the consequences of the ensuing government legislation. The decade ended with the official Reconciliation ceremonies. But has Reconciliation been a success?

Away from the government level, as always, there has been a swirl of ordinary people mixing, creating a freshness of culture throughout the 90s. And these swirls of different storylines can be seen in many aspects of our society:

More indigenous and non-indigenous Australians are forming partnerships and having children. (Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics)

Most Australians have participated at least one event that symbolises change, for example:

•             Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation events, such as “Sorry Days” and participating in the Sea of Hands

•             The healing ceremonies, such as those at Myall Creek

•             Debated the importance of our past history and present and future directions. Examples of these debates are highlighted by the Barton lectures, The Boyer lectures and Lingiari lectures.

These are a reflection of the swirling storylines of our history. These swirls are articulated in Garma, a Yolgnu (peoples from northern Australia) concept meaning foundation of life. There are many ways of explaining Garma, here is one:

In a meeting arranged for school staff, a Yolgnu elder, consultant to the curriculum, explained to us what garma meant, and we were told of a garma site at a homeland centre a couple of hundred kilometres away, which we knew. Garma is a still lagoon. It may appear smelly and threatening to whitefellas, but it is full of life and very productive as a food source. Water is often taken to represent knowledge in Yolgnu philosophy. In the garma, the water is circulating silently beneath the surface; we can read that from the spiralling lines of foam on top. In the swelling and retreating of the tides, and the wet season floods can be seen in the two bodies of water. Each body of water has its own life. What happens in the processes of knowledge production in a school where two different cultures (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal), is to the Yolgnu elders akin to what they can see happening in the garma lagoon. For education to be genuine, natural and productive, both cultures have to be presented in such a way that each is preserved and respected. What is produced by their interaction is quite different from either. It is deep, inexhaustible, and always changing. But moment by moment we can read the surface.

Garma, Foundation of Life

Christie 1995, unpublished NSW Department of Education and Training paper.

Why are the concepts of two bodies sharing the same pond and producing something new that is inexhaustible, important to our present and future?

The ceremony at Myall creek in 2001 gives us at least part of the answer. The land cries with the voices of the dead; and without proper ceremony the spirits can never rest.

The Myall creek massacre of innocent Kamilaroi children, women and men was an infamous event in colonial Australia.

In 2001 a ceremony close to the massacre site brought together descendants of the slain and the perpetrators. The people had the courage to face this horrific event and each other; through barriers of pain and ignorance they crashed. The voices spoke, and each listened to each other’s pain and guilt. The tears flowed and the ceremonies happened. And each spoke peace for the spirits enveloped the area. Each brave person could see what each could do to add to the swirl of their ‘garma’.

The Woggan-ma-gule ceremony on 26 January as part of the official part of the day, again, offers a model for the present and future. It is saying that the Indigenous ceremony is important and it is an integral part of being a modern Australian. To bring the Indigenous voice back to the sacred grounds once more is about the values held by us all: the values of respect, tolerance and justice, for if asked, all Australians would say that these are central to our identity.

As deeper knowledge is reached through events like those at Myall creek and the Woggan-ma-gule ceremony, our shared histories are positive.

A number of Australians, because of the past are calling for a treaty between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia. The Treaty Now organisation reports that a recent AC Nielsen Age poll showed that 53 per cent of Australians are ready to embrace the concept of a treaty. A national treaty here will reflect an Australia that has matured as a nation. This organisation argues that:

A properly negotiated binding treaty will deliver:

•             agreed standards;

•             a framework for settling relationships between Indigenous peoples and governments at local, regional, state, territory and federal levels;

•             legal recognition including constitutional recognition that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have inherent rights which must inform all processes of governments in Australia; and

•             improved services such as health, housing, education and employment in accordance with the legitimate aspirations of Indigenous peoples.


And if we call ourselves a democracy, then it is important to reflect on its successes, as well as the areas that need more effort. This can be done through a series of measures including how civil a society is and how minority groups are treated. In other words are all members of our society equal before the law? Do all members of our society have equal access to health and education services? Are identifiable groups in our society over-represented in prisons or below the poverty line? Are people free to walk anywhere at anytime?

Yes, more Australian walk together and talk together. Yes, more Australians participate in debates about the place of Indigenous Australians and events to support Indigenous events. Yes, there is still many wrongs to be righted.

But many communities through events like those of 26 January are the agents of change. The Australia Day Council will continue to foster these debates and recognise Indigenous peoples for their values, beliefs and attitudes. For these are integral to a healthy society.

Ask yourself is it:

Is it Survival/Invasion Day or Australia Day or both?

Is it a commemoration or celebration or both?

Was it settlement or invasion?


From Little Things Big Things Grow

Some Signposts From Daguragu – Speech by the Governor General August 1996

Reconciliation and Social Justice Library

Message Stick – ABC Indigenous Online

The Draft Declaration on the rights of Indigenous People

Reconciliation and Social Justice Library

Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs

NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs


Other references :


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A little about page admin Kaiyu Moura (Bayles)

Now living in QLD raising her children on their traditional country, gathering food, learning the old art of building shelters, dance and the local language. For the past 20 years with her late Grandmother Maureen Watson and a dance group with 6 of her sisters Kaiyu travelled schools, festivals, events etc sharing the beauty of First Nations Culture through song and dance, stories, art, theatre, nursery rhymes, poetry etc and engaging all ages in different projects that inspire positive change. Also a poet, documentary maker, songwriter, artist, event organiser, media consultant, testing the waters of micro social enterprise by starting her own tshirt and sublimation printing business and with her own label, Kaiyu creates what she calls Freedom Threads.

After building their own home on Tribal Sovereign land, Kaiyu is now homeschooling and teaching the kids about making our own tinctures, learning about bushtucker and mushrooms, growing food, building with aircrete, setting up wind turbines, composting toilets and ram water pumps... Really learning what it truly means to thrive. This is our Group where we share alot of what we do

Kaiyu and the Tribe
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