One week ago this country celebrated January 26, Australia Day, or what I choose to call Invasion Day. In 1788, 238 years ago the 11 ships of the First Fleet arrived on the shores of Botany Bay, spreading the bloodthirsty British Empire onto the shores of Australia.
For some Australian’s this date signals the beginnings of the great country of Australia. For others, the date is recognised as the first of a series of British invasions of an already occupied land, which included the horrors of colonising an ‘uninhabited’ land; leading to gruesome murders and mass geocide.
For Indigenous people, this date has many names. Day of Mourning. Survival Day. Invasion Day. No matter what it’s called, the date is still a day of great pain.
According to Gamilaroi man, and journalist Luke Pearson, the greatest shame of this date however, is the hypocritical nature in which it is celebrated. Australia Day, much to the insistence of our previous and current governments, is a day to celebrate the diversity and multiculturalism that makes up our country.
If we are to wish that as a country, we celebrate January 26th for all Australians, why have we ignored what the date means to Indigenous Australians?
In my opinion, this argument only strengthens the original argument that Australia is a country founded on the death and destruction of Indigenous people and their land. It only further proves that we as a country, in the 21st century, are still ignorant to how discriminatory our idea of Australia is.
However. If you choose not to subscribe to the validity of the ‘Invasion Day’ argument, think of it this way. For the convicts of the First Fleet, and the preceding generations that remember their convict ancestry, January 26 is and was not a day of celebration.
While Australia does not deny it’s convict past, teaching in schools and enactments are often inaccurate, these memories have it all wrong.
The supposed ‘founding’ of Australia was not glamorous nor glorious.
If you are unfamiliar with the history of the the first white settlement in Australia, between 1000 and 1400 people on 11 boats travelled from England to Botany Bay, with at least over half of this population being made up of convicts and children born on the journey.
Again, the history of these convicts is not denied in the history books, or in primary education historical teachings. But what doesn’t stick in the short lessons on Australia’s white history, is the scale of pain and shame that harks back to the arrival of the First Fleet.
Life for the convicts was not pretty. I could put this figure into the number of death and missing, approximately 115 lives on the journey and after landing. But numbers are cold. What gets me is putting myself in the shoes of the convicts and their lives, from conviction, to transportation, to their new life in a strange country.
Over crowding, lack of suitable employment and no support system for the poor and unemployed, made England ripe for crimes such as forms of theft or robbery, and prostitution, which made up most of the First Fleet convict crimes.
Into the ships, in which the convicts spent months in cold, cramped conditions. Lack of nutritional food and the open buckets of waste, resulted in malnutrition and the spread of disease. Convicts were also shackled, and had limited time outside of the hull.
Then, onto Australia, in which the convicts were swiftly put to work building the new colony. This still did not signal a new start for the English convicts, who worked long hours, in which the men laboured, and the women either worked domestic service or made rope and spun wool.
So, imagine this. You’re aged between 19-22, either have no job, or the one you have barely pays the bills. So you steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving family, only to be caught and sentenced to transportation. You spend nearly a year, shackled and cramped inside the hull of a ship that smells like shit, hoping you won’t catch whatever disease your neighbour has. Only to arrive in a foreign land, with terrible weather, little resources, and little hope of ever seeing your family again.
You certainly wouldn’t celebrate your arrival on January 26.
While some convicts were pardoned and either granted land or made enough money to go home to England, many stayed, leaving generations of offspring with convict blood.
Convicts, refugees and those seeking a new life have flooded into Australia from around the world since January 26 1788, many of whom are both proud of their Australian and foreign heritage. But it may be surprising for some, that many with convict heritage choose not to reveal their criminal blood.
Personally, going through primary education in the early 2000’s, having convict blood was certainly interesting and exciting for teachers and other students while studying the history of white Australia.
However, the shame of discovering that your Australian origins come from criminals, is still prevalent today. For example, the theory that some people may have genes that promote criminal behaviour, has led some to believe that those with convict blood are somewhat tainted.
Looking at my own convict origins, it would seem that I have been tainted with petty theft. But I can imagine that I would not be so forthcoming with my convict origins, if my ancestor had been transported on charges of murder or worse.
Nor would I be interested in celebrating January 26, the day in which my ancestor arrived to continue their tainted, murderous, family tree.
The experience of convicts, and their preceding generations, is hardly comparable to the Indigenous experience. But if you can’t stand to change the date for the genocide and systematic slaughter of indigenous Australians, or as Member for Gympie, LNP Tony Perrett calls ‘a vocal group of infantile activists who hate Australia,’ think about the absurdity of having a date that actually celebrates the pain and shame of the first white people to colonise this country.