In Australia, 26 January is known as Australia Day and is a public holiday. Painfully, this date represents the day of invasion in 1788, along with two centuries of dispossession, theft, injustice, slaughter and suffering of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In the lead-up to 26 January and the associated public holiday, the debate continues about whether this is an appropriate day on which to celebrate Australia Day.
Australia and Australians have much to be proud of. We are a democratic nation that is free from civil war. We have enough resources to support our population. We have managed the COVID-19 pandemic very well and our healthcare system is amongst the best in the world. Our education and community services are robust compared to most other nations. We are free to express our political opinions without fear of arrest and imprisonment. I could go on.
As a nation, we have also made shameful decisions that have had disastrous consequences – consequences that we should acknowledge and we should reconcile with. As we say in the Berry Street Reconciliation Action Plan, in order to move forward, the truth must be acknowledged, and the truth must be told.
It is my view that holding Australia Day on 26 January is racist. It ignores the significance of this date to all Australians and diminishes what it means to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is fact that 26 January 1788 was the start of 200+ years of systematic oppression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
To stand in solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Berry Street staff can now choose to work on 26 January and take an alternate day of leave.
We live on the stolen lands of Traditional Custodians and should be proud that we have the privilege of living alongside the oldest continuous culture in the world. We can also be grateful that there is support from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to reconcile despite their pain, loss and dispossession.
As I said above, Australia has much to be proud of and as Australians, we have much to celebrate on our national day. We should not however do so on 26 January. There are many other days when we can celebrate in a more inclusive way.
Michael Perusco, CEO