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  • Writer's pictureLES HENSON

A Day that Divides Us

After a great deal of reflection I have come to the conclusion that as a proud Australian, I am saddened that Australia Day is a day that divides us instead of uniting us as a people. Two hundred and thirty years ago today the First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove to establish a penal colony. For many of the arrivals, it was the beginning of penal servitude and much brutality in the name of justice after a long and dangerous voyage. While for the First Peoples it marked the beginning of colonisation, genocide, loss of land and the diminishing of their identity, culture, and lifestyle. The founding of Australia was based on the lie of terra nullius, the idea that the land was empty and unpopulated. Consequently, no Treaty was established with the First Peoples of Australia. The intervening years have become a time of great progress in terms of nation-building, and much pain, particularly for the First Peoples. Classified as flora and fauna and denied the right to vote until the mid-sixties. They lost the rights to their land, and many children were forcibly removed from their families in what became known as the ‘Stolen Generation.’ The story of the First Peoples is a long and pain-filled story. Even today the health and wellbeing of many of the First Peoples are well below the national average, while the incarceration and suicide rate is much higher. The inability of successive governments to listen, let alone understand, the needs of our First Peoples has resulted in further despair and at times alienation and disintegration of many traditional communities.

The time has come for radical change. Such change must begin with a Treaty and the recognition of the First Peoples in our Constitution. The day on which Australia Day is celebrated must be changed so that it becomes a day when all Australians can celebrate the day with joy and dignity rather than a day of mourning and invasion on the part of the First Peoples. Australia is a wonderful country with a chequered past. We must remember all of our history going back sixty-five thousand years as well as the past two hundred and thirty years. We must understand the good, the bad, and the ugly of our joint history and in our understanding move towards greater unity, increased understanding, and further reconciliation. I say this as a British born Australian who recognises the sins of my people, and I repent of my complicity in any and every act of violence and injustice done in the name of nation-building and colonialism against the First Peoples. Let us seek further reconciliation and move forward together in unity to create a better Australia in which all people are respected and dignified so that together we are able to celebrate our joint identity as Australians without violence, injustice, racism, or distrust.

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