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‘Sad past, hopeful future’: Indigenous voices on Australia Day

For many, Australia Day is about family barbecues and hitting the beach, but for others it’s a time of reflection and remembering the past.

At the Australia Day program announcement, held earlier this month at Sydney Harbour, Aboriginal educator and team leader Clarence Slockee told the crowd Australia Day is a reminder to engage with wider Australia and to celebrate the nation’s First People.

“January 26 is a complex date for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We are the First People this country. The essence of the day is to remember we are still here as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and that we do have the world’s oldest living culture and that we contribute to what is the core and essence of the land,” he told the audience.

The Indigenous Mount Druitt Choir, performed a rendition of the National Anthem in the Dharug language at the event. The choir’s director, David John Armstrong, told The Point Magazine that Australia Day is all about recognition. He said it was a great step for his choir to be asked to perform on Australia Day.

“It’s wonderful because of the acknowledgment of our Aboriginal language and our families. I look forward to the day when it becomes normal to speak in our language.”

The choir was established 2010 to empower disadvantaged Indigenous youth, to strengthen their connection to culture and revive the Dharug language.

“The elders in the community and families wanted their kids to learn the language of the land they’re on and to have fun. Language equals identity and equals honour and value and by the kids learning the language, they find an identity and they get very passionate about it,” Armstrong said. 

“The myriad cultural backgrounds who now call Australia home would do well to meet with Aboriginal people in the areas they reside or take the opportunities to learn and to share in cultural experiences.”

– Clarence Stockee, Aboriginal educator

Clarence told The Point Magazine, he believes Indigenous communities have much in common with communities from migrant backgrounds and there should be a stronger dialogue between communities.

“The myriad cultural backgrounds who now call Australia home would do well to meet with Aboriginal people in the areas they reside or take the opportunities to learn and to share in cultural experiences,” he said.

Armstrong said it is a positive step if more communities learn something about the languages of Indigenous communities.

“It’s a wonderful thing and it’s honouring the elders past and present here. Often Australians travel everywhere and you learn at least a line wherever you go. I think it’s great for every Australian to learn at least one line.”

“Many multicultural communities tend to remain insulated to a degree, yet due in part to being in the minority, Aboriginal people and people of various ethnicities bond over that shared commonality of being the ‘other’” said Slockee.

Armstrong said Australia Day can be a sad occasion for many from his community, but it is also about a hopeful future.

“For Aboriginals there’s some sad things from the past, it’s not an easy day but there’s also some wonderful things happening from the present and hope for the future especially as we get more of our identity and we all help each other and encourage each other.”

Singer and songwriter Thelma Plum, the first ever winner of Triple J Unearthed National Indigenous Music Awards (NIMAs), has spoken publicly to Triple J about how she feels towards Australia Day. She said growing up the concept of Australia Day was always a complex day with many layers.

Slockee said overall it is encouraging to see more of a focus on Indigenous community involvement in the Australia Day celebrations.

“Aboriginal people have had so much taken from them that all we have left is our culture, our spirituality and our identity. We are happy to share our culture and encourage young people to share in learning through celebration and participation.”

Slockee said although there have been efforts previously to involve Indigenous people, more needs to be done.

“Aboriginal culture and communities differ greatly just as the needs and aspirations are many and varied. Successive governments have, I’m sure, done their best to address what they perceive as ‘what’s best’ for community. Those vested in community engagement would do well to commit to memory the definition of consultation and it’s derivative verb, consult,” he said.

Slockee believes that some Australians still don’t completely understand the Indigenous community.

“The fact that Australia is the home of the world’s oldest living culture has become a catch phrase rather than the incredibly rich heritage of which all Australians can take pride in. To preserve that heritage, it must first be acknowledged and understood... the historical consequences of what happened to the Indigenous community is part of our DNA.”


The Point

For many, Australia Day is about family BBQ’s and hitting the beach but for others it’s a time of reflection and remembering the past.


Video courtesy of the Mount Druitt Indigenous Choir


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