Australia Day 2021: reflect, respect, celebrate

Reconciliation flag

I wish to acknowledge the Traditional owners of the land we stand on as the first people of my country, and the oldest culture in the world. Australia Day 2021 presents us with a welcome opportunity to reflect on our recent challenges, respect those who put others before themselves and celebrate our resilience and unity, and I do this by first paying my respect to Elders, past, present and emerging.

Over the past 12 months, our nation faced some significant challenges, including the first responders of the bushfires, floods, drought, and the coronavirus pandemic. Let us all reflect on the selfless and brave work of our fellow Australians including our volunteers, our emergency workers, our firefighters, and especially our health care workers.

It has been a difficult year for all us, and I’m sure it has been even more so for them and I am grateful we have people in our communities who put their lives on the line for us. To me, January for each of us, and for our nation.

January 26 is meant to be Australia’s national day, but there is a continued and growing debate about whether this is the most appropriate date for it, given so many First Nations Australians see it as a day of mourning, pain and protest.

In 2021, let us come together and create opportunities to come together and reflect, whilst focusing on respect for Aboriginal and non Aboriginal Australians, and not only celebrate this great country, but that we are having these conversations openly.

Australia is a vibrant, multicultural country, and ishome to the world’s oldest continuous cultures, as well as Australians who identify with more than 270 ancestries. With more than 26% of Australians being born overseas and 49% of people having at least one parent born overseas, Australia has 100 religions and 300 ethnic groups in our cultural melting pot.

I am proud to support the preservation and revitalisation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and understand how important first languages are. As someone who loves English, and as someone who also acutely understands the importance of first languages in aged and dementia care.

In 1788, there were over 250 Indigenous Australian language groups covering our continent at the time of British settlement. Today only around 120 of those languages are still spoken and many are at risk of being lost as Elders pass away.

Indigenous languages play a vital role in cultural identity, linking people to their land and water and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites, through story and song.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait languages are not just a means of communication, they express knowledge about everything: law, geography, history, family and human relationships, philosophy, religion, anatomy, childcare, health, caring for country, astronomy, biology and food.

In 2000 Aboriginal languages were offered by 63 schools to 2500 South Australian students, the majority Indigenous. Community language projects have been mounted in a dozen languages. We are lucky to have Mr Jack Buckskin in SA, who is a tireless advocate and educator of first languages in Australia and globally.

I’m often asked if I agree with the celebrations and activities held on Australia Day.

My suggestion or solution is to have one minutes silence on Australia Day, to acknowledge and respect everyone, and to adequately reflect on our past.

Kate Swaffer ©️ 2021

As the late Dr Martin Luther King Jnr would have found out had he lived, racism and disrespect continue in spite of activism for change.

A day, a date, even significant activism now or in the past for a fairer future for all, doesn’t easily change that.

So, as we join together for another year, let us remember that it is not only about the conversations we have today, or the acknowledgement of our shared history, it is the actions we all take tomorrow and into the future that matter.

Congratulations to all of the award recipients in Australia today.

Ordinary people doing truly extraordinary things.

Kate Swaffer ©️ 26 January 2021

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