Reflections on January 26

26 January 2022

How should we feel about January 26?

As an agency, Think HQ has been asking ourselves that question. Frankly, most Australians have been asking ourselves that question.

Invasion Day, Australia Day, Survival Day. Even deciding how to name it seemingly demands we draw a line in the sand and choose a side.

So, rather than add to the din, this year we’ve looked inward. On Tuesday we came together to talk through the day and how we feel about it. Our First Nations Engagement Team – proud Noongar men Professor Shane Hearn and Jayden Gerrand - led us in discussion. We gathered remotely, facilitated by our Head of Content and Owned Strategy Stefan Delatovic.

In the lead up to the day we gave everyone the opportunity to submit questions and comments anonymously, and these shaped the discussion, which was then opened up to the whole team to join in. Our goal was to educate ourselves, so we can best go on to educate others.

It’s a core tenant of our work that we foster inclusivity. That means working with communities and learning from them to ensure we’re properly representing every member of our diverse society.

Yes, we want to lead positive change on how Australia celebrates and views itself. So, just like every project we work on, that starts with understanding. We’ve been led by our First Nations team and held space for a discussion that is, at times, deeply personal, fiendishly complex and rooted in cultural and personal trauma.

We talked about a lot, but chiefly, we understand that marking Australia Day on January 26 is not inclusive of all Australians. It’s not the date that’s the inherent problem, but the decision to specifically celebrate the arrival of colonial settlers, and the impact they wrought upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people both then and today.

In doing so, we elevate their role, and thus minimise the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We ignore the pain that’s been caused and denounce the preceding Aboriginal occupancy of 65,000 years.

Sovereignty was never ceded. Aboriginal culture is a pulsing presence that’s here to stay.

There is no defining feature that captures the essence of being Australian, but a true Australia Day should strive to speak to three defining features of our history:

  • Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage
  • The arrival of British colonisation
  • The removal of overt discrimination against migrants through the White Australia Policy.

In doing so, we would better represent the extraordinary diversity of the nation.

Australia Day, as it stands, is hurting people. The unresolved trauma of our colonial past is a wound on all our souls.

The goal of this discussion – of holding these issues up to the light and calling for change – is not about generating guilt. The point is not to make current generations feel bad about the sins of the past. Rather, the goal is to fearlessly address and heal these injuries. We must go through this process, acknowledge our intergenerational trauma and fix it. That is how we recapture the unabashed spirit of celebration so many yearn for. Not by shutting down change, but by embracing it.

Because if you can’t acknowledge your own pain, then how can you acknowledge the pain of others? This is not “an Aboriginal issue”, it’s a national matter of concern. Many non-Aboriginal people carry their own guilt and trauma about where we’ve come from.

We all hold different pieces to this puzzle. We can only solve it together.

As it includes our oldest citizens, so does it include our newest. We heard the experiences of team members who had recently immigrated to Australia, who shared their anxieties of how best to engage with an event and a topic that felt so deeply personal to the Australian experience. This cohort, like their peers who grew up here, seeks deeper insight about Aboriginal culture and our true, full history. 

So what next? At Think HQ, it’s up to the individual as to whether they’ll take a public holiday on January 26 or defer to a different day. But how best to mark the event?

By being mindful to reflect on this day as painful and offensive to Aboriginal people. That doesn’t mean it cannot be a fun day, just that respect is important. It is a good opportunity to seek out education on Aboriginal history, experience art and celebrate culture.

Collectively, we discussed what we might like to see next.

We talked about alternate dates, and how the most appropriate one would be the day when a treaty is signed with our Aboriginal people.

We discussed a national statement, recognising the full history and diversity of our country.

And we talked about what we’re doing and will continue to do. We’re developing a Reconciliation Action Plan, and we will keep talking.

Ultimately, we understood that the answer lies in prioritising fairness, care and responsibility. Following our values and a commitment to positive human outcomes, will lead us to a positive future.

We all need to look after each other.

 

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which our offices stand, the Yaluk-ut Weelam Clan of the Boon Wurrung, and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

We respectfully acknowledge all First Nations of this great nation and neighbouring places.

Stefan Delatovic
Head of Content and Owned Strategy