Change the Date?
Supporters of Changing the Date argue that we need to find another national day in order to break the silence and tell the truth about Australia’s Indigenous history.
However, the idea that these days we deny the tragedy of that history is outdated.
The notion of a ‘Great Australian Silence’ about ‘Invasion Day’ simply is not true given the national awareness of the realities of colonial dispossession and consequent destruction of Aboriginal society.
Moreover, these truths have been at the heart of national thinking about Indigenous affairs since the 1970s — with counterproductive results.
Nevertheless, the Change the Daters also argue that we need a new and inclusive national day to raise awareness of the ongoing historical legacy of oppression and exclusion.
The allegation is that an unbroken historical chain of racism and disadvantage, dating from 1788, accounts for Indigenous Australians continuing to be denied the Australian Dream of the ‘fair go’ for all.
However, this idea is also outdated.
These days, 80% of Indigenous Australians — who mostly live in south-eastern metropolitan Australia — have the same employment, health, housing and other social outcomes as their non-Indigenous peers.
The remaining 20% of Indigenous Australians who suffer well-known social problems and gaps live mainly in rural and remote areas.
These are the government-supported homeland communities established in the 1970s under the policies of Aboriginal Self-Determination, which sought to address the legacies of colonialism and dispossession by enabling Indigenous people to return to their traditional lands and live in traditional ways.
It is these ‘separatist’ policies that have been employed to address the past that have, in practice, excluded the minority of Indigenous Australians from full participation in the freedoms and opportunities of mainstream Australian life.
Contemporary Indigenous disadvantage is therefore not caused by the nation having done too little to try and right the wrongs of the past — as the Change the Daters claim.
It has actually been caused by the policies that have been specially designed to make up for the founding sins of Australian history.