OPINION: Change the attitude, not the date, says Newcastle Elder

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Awabakal/Gaewegal Elder Aunt Tracey Hanshaw believes the date of Australia Day is not the problem; it’s what Australians celebrate.

The 55-year-old University of Newcastle law student says the approach to how the day is acknowledged needs altering more than anything else.

“I feel the attitude should be changed, that’s why I started the hashtag #DontChangeTheDateChangeTheAttitude,” she explains. 

“It should be recognising the true history of this country and all of it – not just the past 250 years of a white-washed version. 

“The good, the bad and ugly of that 250 should be told during this day; plus the 65,000+ years beforehand can also be celebrated and recognised because it all [makes up] this country’s history.”

Aunt Tracey is one of the organisers of an event in Newcastle today (Tuesday 26 January).

The Day of Mourning – Invasion Day 2021 is calling on the community to gather at Civic Park in Newcastle to march to Foreshore Park, near Nobbys holding signs and sharing stories about the heritage of Australia.

“January 26th 1938 was the first-ever day of mourning 83 years ago – and it was about mourning what was happening to First Nations Peoples,” she says.

“[That day] drastically affects First Nations Peoples, most don’t feel safe to leave their homes, it’s very stressful and causes mental health issues. 

“It’s a sad and difficult day, it also signifies the date that our traditional way of life began to be eroded away and the beginning of the ongoing genocide and systemic racism against our first nations. 

“That’s why it’s known among us as Invasion Day, and is a day that we can never celebrate.

“We feel excluded on Australia Day as it only celebrates this country’s past 250 years of colonisation and not the 65,000+ years of [our] history, it diminishes all of the heritage of this country.”

Instead of hosting a rally or protest, Aunt Tracey is hoping to create an event that is inclusive of everyone.

Starting at 10am at Civic Park, attendees will mourn the past 250 years and share that mourning with indigenous and non-indigenous people to help address what people may suffer on this day.

“Then we will heal the present, with a smoking ceremony and songs,” she says.

“At 11am we will leave Civic Park and walk all the way up to the Foreshore, singing all of the top indigenous artists songs to lift the mood and heal the now. 

“Once we arrive at the Foreshore we will have high spirits crossing the bridge with a smoking ceremony – all coming together for the future.”

Following the march, people will have access to a sausage sizzle while they listen to or watch traditional Aboriginal dances, speeches, poems and singing.

After this, they will go to Nobbys Beach for the Beach 5s Rugby match which features Owen Craigie, Lote Tuqiri and Willie Mason.

As the founding director of Justice Aunties Inc, a group that helps First Nations People navigate their way through the justice system, Aunt Tracey is hoping to make a difference.

“We encourage indigenous and non-indigenous people to [mark] this history making day with us,” she says.

“We want to mourn the past, heal the now and all come together for the future.”

Go to the Facebook event page for more information.

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