On this Day in 1788…

Image of setting sun in similar style to the Aboriginal Flag, accompanying a piece on Australia Day
Photograph by Oliver Frank

Today was a public holiday here in Australia. 26th January is known to some as Australia Day, to others as Invasion Day. A day of celebration for some, for others, a day of mourning and/or activism- acknowledging the past and present injustices to the indigenous peoples of this country- for others still, simply a welcome time off from work.

Today, I didn’t celebrate, but thoughts of injustices were on my mind. There are gaps in health, mortality, education, social inclusion, services- you name it, there is a gaping hole that divides the original custodians of this land from its other inhabitants. I was not going to write about it, until an email from a friend inspired me to share some words, a quote attributed to Lilla Watson, although she prefers to see it attributed to ‘Aboriginal activist’s group, Queensland, 1970s’.

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.

But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

I love the quote, as ‘help’ is too often about making the ‘helper’ feel good without an understanding of what is really needed- be it a government initiative, or the voluntary act of an individual. The alternative is acknowledging the other person’s humanity and seeing that we need one another- a good place to start- with a paradigm shift still needed, some 40 odd years after those words were spoken, and 228 years since the arrival of the First Fleet.


26/01/2017: This was first published on 26th January 2016. It is still relevant a year on. Prison populations, education, employment and morbidity and mortality rates have not made any forward leaps for positive change. This time around though, I am not merely a saddened spectator but playing a small part in change by participating in a Reconciliation Action Plan working group at my place of work.

26/01/2018: A year on and the sentiments and their cause remain. I am still part of the Reconciliation Action Plan group at work, but now with a more formalised role, representing my business group. I haven’t personally made any tangible steps toward the RAP but I have clarity now in what I can contribute, following a seminar I attended on Aboriginal Water Values in late 2017. It is sometimes overwhelming to see injustice and not know where or how to make a difference- but what better way than in one’s area of expertise and circle of influence? I will focus on ways to ensure that cultural values of water are a factor in water management decisions. Without elaborating on the seminar that I found inspiring and how water is intrinsic to indigenous culture, I will leave you with a trailer for the documentary ‘Ringbalin’ which I saw for the first time at the seminar.

Ringbalin Trailer from Ringbalin on Vimeo.


25 thoughts on “On this Day in 1788…

    1. Thanks e! Let me know if you ever head down this way. Yes, a lot of what you’d see of Australia in the media and in history books is that of white Australia. I could rattle off statistics about disproportionate representation in jails, deaths in custody, number of years since voting was allowed etc…over 200 years later, the oppression continues…

      There is a lot to be said for trauma being passed on through generations. I’m glad to have raised some awareness here, but would love to find even more effective ways to make a difference.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. i think Jacket published some translations of Aboriginal poetry, i’ll try & hunt it down, very direct, almost like a series of signs more than language but really powerful for that directness. it translated the ingenuity of how they name emotion, movement & object, i must find it for you.
    i read a lot on Aboriginal dream time years ago, forgot much of it, but i remember my awe at its sophistication.
    i found the article, because my memory decided not to give up on me, here http://jacket2.org/article/oceania-love

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing that article Daniel. I particularly liked ‘Expression of Grief Among Aboriginal Women’ and ‘A Drama of North-Eastern Arnhem Land’.

      Not sure about the accuracy in the article stating that the last traditional community was in 1984 – might have to read up further on that. I haven’t read much on dream time, but can definitely appreciate the richness in knowledge about the land, flora, fauna and the weather – yes, much more sophisticated than the colonialists recognised.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. eye opening words, the indigenous people of Malaysia are still struggling to be on equal playing ground, government doesn’t help either with just policies and plans but no real action that helps them. I feel the words you wrote, never realised it was still an issue in Australia. When in NZ I observed some disturbing trends towards the original people of that place and felt sad that even with a similar day as you have in Australia they are still in the same place, put their by the settlers that came to see their home. Really good sharing on what is still happening in our world. Tenderly written but there was impact on collision.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Gina. I’m afraid I don’t know anything about the indigenous people of Malaysia. If you think the Maori’s (in NZ) have it bad, the Aboriginals in Australia are far worse of, at least in terms of respect and knowledge of their culture.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. i never knew….whats the aboriginal population size like in Australia these days? I don’t think it’s better or worse for any first nation, they are always marginalised – but its pieces like this that need to be written for their voice to be heard.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Had to google that but at the 2011 census, there were 3% Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders residing in Australia (approx 670,000 out of a total population of approx 21.7 million). Thanks, I hope to have more concrete and quantitative info to report this time next year rather than just my opinion/feelings. It will be an interesting tracking of my progress in putting words into action the more I learn and share πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      3. hope i did not come across like snobbish with my comment – but we are here to help each other along, the way we write shifts and transforms as time passes and i believe we need the critics to evolve. as long as it’s given with honesty and kindness. Love and enjoy your sharing!


      4. sorry – i am the rambler aren’t I -meant to say – i asked a question and it prompted you to analyze your writing – hope it was received in the spirit it was given, genuine interest.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I wasn’t analysing my writing- just saying that it could be a good marker of progress in my own existence if i track my participation in chsnging things- e.g. between posting last year and this year, I joined a RAP working group as I mentioned in the postscript. Not got a problem with either uou comments nor my writing.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. what does the RAP working group involve? i have never really gone back to look at what i have written before, you have given me food for thought here.


      7. I went back to this post not so much to reflect on my writing but to share the still relevant message. RAP is a way for organisations to implement practical ways to address inequalities and work together for reconciliation. Link at bottom of my post says it better than I could, if you have time to click through. Revisiting writing (although not done here) is a lot of fun and sometimes surprising too- I highly recommend it! 😊


  3. Thank you for this quote, and thought about this word, “help.” It reminds me of a quote by the late Eduardo Galeano, who said that he did not believe in charity, but in solidarity.

    Liked by 1 person

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