Yesterday, this proud man spoke about his life as an Aboriginal person, how he had wandered all over the country, became lost from his mob, then eventually connected with the local Bandjulung tribe of Arakwal Nation on the New South Wales North Coast. He told us how he was welcomed and accepted as one of their mob even though he was different.
Perhaps most importantly, he spoke about how proud he is to have a strong spirit and a connection to mother earth; that on Australia Day the indigenous community come together to celebrate the incredible survival of their culture. His focus was very much on the tenacity and resilience of Indigenous Aussies, looking towards the future – recognising, but not focusing on all they have lost.
The community event was held at a traditional meeting place next to the ocean at Byron Bay, where locals and travellers gathered around to hear speeches, listen to music and express themselves through the community arts projects. The audience were quick to get involved in the communal dancing and people curious about the reason for the event had an opportunity to ask questions. Overall it was an uplifting, positive community gathering that reminded me just how important it is to connect on a one to one level about entrenched social issues.
Heading in to my fourth year of social work this year I have definitely felt awakened to indigenous issues in Australia. I used to feel ashamed about how little I knew about the reality of life for Indigenous Aussies, but now I realise how not knowing is more the norm in our country. Finding out and getting involved are actually pretty easy if you want to.
No matter how patriotic you are as an Australian, I believe it’s easy to see how celebrating our way of life as a nation, on the very date that marks the beginning of the horrific indigenous massacres, the fight for land rights, and the ongoing discrimination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, could be inflammatory. More and more people seem to understand how important it would be for us to simply change the date of Australia Day to a day that would be more inclusive and less traumatic for Indigenous Aussies.
Seeing the public support at the Survival Day event in Byron, and the record crowds at marches across Australia, I feel hopeful that understanding and respect for indigenous issues and people are growing.