Australia’s fundamental race divide is not the date of Australia Day.

For the life of me, I don’t understand why convict descendants want to celebrate January 26. After all, why celebrate the unfair and harsh incarceration of your ancestors?

Now that Australia day is over, let’s get to the fundamental issue behind Australia’s race divide – and it is not the date of our national day, it is sovereignty.

Would ‘changing the date’ stop the ‘invasion day’ protests?

Imagine if we became a Republic and moved Australia Day to ‘Republic Day’ sometime in say March? Republic Day would still represent sovereignty that derived from European Settlement. Changing the day would not vest sovereignty solely in racially specific groups that pre-dates European settlement. There would still be protests.

Protests are not about the date (and I’ve proposed a few alternatives here), they are about the underlying issues of sovereignty.

I somewhat provocatively wonder how many people protesting the ‘invasion day’ would voluntarily gift their real estate to the indigenous tribe from which it was ‘stolen’ through ‘invalid sovereignty’?

I also wonder how many would voluntarily give up their ‘fraudulent’ Australian passports also derived from ‘invalid sovereignty’, voluntarily becoming stateless and then somehow go ‘back to where they come from?’

People cannot ‘go back to where they came from’ because to where would they go?

To where would an Australian of English descent go? England? Not if they have French blood, because William invaded and dispossessed the Saxons.

What if they were Celtic? Chances are they were then Viking, so raped and pillaged to take their land.

What if they were from the subcontinent? Well, what was their role in the Partition?

What if they were from Asia? Do they have guilt in your veins represented by Mongol invading blood? Chinggis Khan’s DNA can be traced in about in two hundred males on the planet (see here). Will these millions all move back to Ulaanbaatar?

This is of course facetious. No one is suggesting we all leave. There is a recognition amongst ‘invasion day’ protesters, if unspoken, that while there is a sovereignty issue, ‘we are all here now’. Being all here now is the critical matter.

Changing the date of Australia Day does nothing for that reality. But recognising history should.

Truthfully most human history is nasty. Almost everyone sometime in their family history can point to dispossession, persecution, or war. If you want to find a bad part of your history, you can, no matter who you are.

Take my family. I am not a coloniser. On my paternal side, my ancestors’ cultural rights were trodden on, sovereignty was taken, my ancestors fled a history of persecution and economic hardship for a better life here.

On my maternal side, my ancestors were shot at, starved and forced off their lands.

If you doubt the dispossession in my family’s history, buy a book on the Highland Clearances and the Potato Famine.

But, in recognising history, are we right to call 1788 an ‘Invasion’? Indigenous history is a blood-stained one. The British made huge mistakes when they came, as did the Australian government once it was formed. But an ‘invasion’?

Perhaps ironically, there is a strong legal argument to say that if Australia were ‘invaded’ not ‘settled’ in 1788 then all indigenous sovereignty would have been extinguished under law and no native title would exist today.

While many deride the notion of ‘terra nullius’, they do so on a misunderstanding. ‘Terra Nullius’ was not land belonging to NOBODY’, but ‘land BELONGING to nobody’.

The distinction is incredibly important. The former says that indigenous Australians were not human and hence British sovereignty was claimed by calling Australia ‘uninhabited’. This would be repugnant.

Cook and Banks in their diaries speak admirably about the culture and people’s around modern-day Cooktown, during their months marooned there. Arthur Philip had instructions to treat the indigenous population with respect.

Hardly consistent with the view that Aboriginals were ‘sub-human’.

Where one puts the emphasis, the word ‘belonging’ or the word ‘nobody’, is an important legal and human distinction of ‘terra nullius’. The latter recognises the existence of people but sees no land ‘ownership’ with which to negotiate a settlement. To say the English view of ‘terra-nullius’ de-humanised the aboriginal people is quite simply wrong. To say it did not recognise indigenous laws is correct. It is an important distinction.

The Mabo decision (see here) is a turning point in Australia’s legal sovereignty. The decision recognised that not only the pre-existing people in Australia but also the very many complex systems of laws, customs and practices.

Mabo said that while no one ‘owned the land’ in a European legal sense (those who say ‘we do not own the land, the land owns us’ hold an analogous view), it was nevertheless invalid to say land could simply be settled. The court hence created the new notion of ‘native title’.

The court also recognised that sole indigenous sovereignty could not exist because if it did the 20 million or so non-indigenous people (that is us dear reader) would immediately be thrown into poverty and statelessness.

And here is the rub. We must acknowledge the past but move forward together, because no one is gifting their house and no one is giving up their passport. Ulaanbaatar will not become the world’s largest city.

By global standards, Australia is not a brutal country. It has its problems, but the reality is Australia has become by almost any measure one of the best functioning countries in the world.

That is what Australia Day should recognise the ill and good of yesterday, celebrate what we have become today, and aspire to be even better tomorrow, regardless of the date.

 

 

 

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