During my recent travels throughout Aotearoa (New Zealand), I got into conversation with a tourist about the current political climates of each of our countries – Australia and Germany. The conversation turned to one of nationalism – in particular, of our countries’ histories of genocide, and how both countries have established a national identity since. She expressed the overwhelming shame that remains in Germany following World War II, and said she would never fly the German flag today due to its close association with Nazism.
I envied her description of present-day Germany (though it certainly has its own issues), as little such shame can be found in so-called Australia; a nation that grows its own white supremacist neo-Nazi groups who promote their ‘Hitler Youth’ recruitment propaganda on bus shelters, yet denies any connection between such groups and the history of Australia itself. A nation founded on the massacre of Aboriginal peoples that continues to celebrate ‘Australia Day’ (more appropriately referred to as Invasion Day) – the date the first fleet of British ships invaded in 1788 and began constituting patriarchal, white sovereignty.
On 26 January each year, Australian flags swaddle the bodies of partygoers, culturally appropriative flag-designed sombreros are commonplace, and white men adorned in military uniforms carrying guns to resemble British colonisers lead the marches in Australia Day parades. Traditionally, the day included a re-enactment of the invasion, with Aboriginal hostages forced to stand on the beach and literally run away from ‘invaders’.
Today, thousands of Aboriginal peoples and our allies stand in resistance to the day by shutting down major cities, blockading parades and disrupting celebrations. But interestingly, the Australia Day Council, tasked with the upkeep of maintaining the true-blue Aussie spirit, attempts to frame the day as one on which to celebrate refugees from war-torn countries finding freedom in our sun-scorched land.
One way in which they do this is by inviting a few ‘cultural’ floats to the parade. These floats, many featuring refugees, follow behind the white men with guns. The imagery would be more realistic, however, if the refugees were chained to the invaders’ floats, resembling Australia’s torturous treatment of refugees and asylum seeker detainees in places like Manus Island – itself a continuation of Australia’s colonial past. On Australia Day, we are expected to celebrate the arrival of colonists on our shores, but who continue to detain the boats of people who seek refuge from the very types of colonisation the first boats brought with them.
The exploitation of refugees’ experiences of rebuilding their lives in Australia by the Australia Day Council – an attempt to establish the façade of a unified, multicultural nation – also facilitates the divisive binary between refugees’ experiences and Aboriginal nations fighting for recognition of our sovereignty. For example, shortly after Invasion Day in 2017, I was asked by the mainstream media why Aboriginal Resistance Warriors, despite our clear demand that Invasion Day be recognised as a day of mourning for those who have lost their lives to state brutality since the colonial frontier wars rather than a day of celebration, chose to ‘ruin’ a day on which so many peoples simply celebrate their apparent new-found safety. This suggestion is all the more galling in light of the fact that key groups such as young African males, particularly Sudanese and Somali refugees, are being targeted by the Australian government, identified as gangsters and threatened with deportation.
The discourse of refugee-turned-free-Australian-citizen on Australia Day is ultimately culturally assimilative. It seeks to benefit those who continue to thrive off the suppression of Aboriginal peoples’ experiences and the oppression of our sovereignty and lands. In the words of Seumas Mac Griogair: “The very notion of Australia claims Aboriginal land for itself.” Australia cannot absorb refugees, Indigenous, First Nations, POC and Black communities as its own as it is sustained by the neo-colonisation that continues to bind our collective experiences of global oppression and displacement together. Australia cannot provide freedom to those it continues to oppress. To quote Audre Lorde: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
Invasion Day this year marks the 80th anniversary of the recognition of Australia day as a day of mourning and marks over 250 years of resistance to celebrations of genocide. While many Australians right now are debating whether to change the date on which these celebrations occur, we won’t be distracted from our fight to destroy white supremacy. As a Wiradjuri, Kuringai and Maori woman, I hope to see the expansion of Aboriginal nationhood, the healing of our lands, and the overflow of that healing for all who are oppressed, who mourn and resist, on such a day as this.