The council of Fremantle in Western Australia have contemplated not having fireworks display on Australia Day next year. The reason is because the 26 of January signifies the dark era of British colonialism for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Even today, Australia Day is also known as “Invasion Day”. As a Caucasian Australian with Scottish and Irish heritage, I don’t think it’s my right to criticise people of ATSI background about how they should feel about the 26 of January. Over the past couple of years, Australians, whether they like it or not, have had to look at the negative impact that historical and present racism has had on ATSI people. Things are looking up. Fortunately, the reaction toward Adelaide player Eddie Betts has been overall positive and the woman that made the racial slur and action (of throwing a banana at him), recently identified as 27 – year – old Port Adelaide supporter, Alexandra Polosi. Betts has said that he forgives her and doesn’t want her banned from attending future games. It’s good though, that she was criticised in the first place.
The reaction against former Australian of the Year and Sydney Swans player, Adam Goodes, was less positive. It started when a racial slur was hurled at him by a then – 13 – year – old girl. The way she was handled, by the police and then the media was, arguably heavy – handed. When Goodes became Australian of the Year the year after, things started to go sour, as he tried to bring up the issue Australia’s dark colonial history when he was awarded Australian of the Year in 2014, then the “war dance”, which was seen as threatening, and then, it all came to ahead last year when he was consistently booed at a game. I know many people won’t agree with me when I say this, but Goodes was essentially bullied out of his workplace, whether it was specifically racially motivated or not.
The Goodes’ saga spurred other people of ATSI background to be frank about their own experiences of racial abuse and how they felt about Australia Day. I remember watching a segment of ABC’s “The Drum”, where former Labor Prime Minister’s Adviser for Aboriginal Affairs, Warren Mundine opened up about his own experiences of racial abuse and how it affected his mental health.
It’s interesting that, despite the criticism aimed at Goodes and his reaction to the 13 – year – old and the aftermath, I think it’s actually spark a change in AFL culture and the way people from ATSI background are viewed. The AFL, the media and society as a whole, I think are much more quicker to point out and condemn racial abuse when they see it. Unfortunately, the reaction against Polosi on social media has gone too far and she has reportedly received abuse on social media, which should also be condemned.
Anyway, back to the Australia Day debate. Yes, 26 January is a dark anniversary for many ATSI people because it’s the date of the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. I think that anyone who doesn’t want to celebrate Australia Day for that reason should be free to do so, as with any other national holiday. However, I think it’s important too, to look at how far we have come in terms of race relations. We should celebrate that since World War Two, many, many people have come to Australia in a bid for a better life and have succeeded. I think we should celebrate how far we’ve come in terms of race relations – how many Australians, for example, stood behind Eddie Betts after he was racially abused. We should celebrate how society has worked to make schools, workplaces and universities places where people from ATSI and other racial backgrounds can feel accepted and safe. It’s not perfect, but surely it’s a far cry from the prejudices and discrimination seen before the abolition of the White Australia Policy in the 20th century.
There is a lot to be proud of. Are we perfect as a nation? No. Does it mean that no – one suffers racism? No. But I believe we are moving forward; one foot in front of the other. I think the reaction to Betts is an example of that. If, however, you feel inclined not to celebrate Australia Day on the 26 January, then that’s your right. Whether councils like Fremantle should cancel a fireworks next year…. hmmmm… I’ll get back to you on that.
What do you think? How far has Australia come in accepting racial diversity and harmony? How much further should we go? What does the 26 January mean to you?