January 26: One day, many meanings

Author: Samaritans CEO, Brad Webb

In the lead up to 26 January 2019, I wrote about listening and learning. I shared the words of Kullilli man, Toby Adams, who suggested we would be having a different conversation if we listened to hear, rather than listened to respond.  

Late last year, the Samaritans Reconciliation Action Committee was honoured to welcome a visit from Aunty Deb Swan, Cultural Education Officer at Awabakal, and co-Founder of Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR).  

She shared with us a reflection from Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr about the traditional practice of dadirri. Expressed simply, dadirri is inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness. 

The word, concept and spiritual practice that is dadirri is from the Ngan’gikurunggurr and Ngen’giwumirri languages of the Aboriginal peoples of the Daly River region in the Northern Territory. 

I was privileged to spend some time with a young, strong Aboriginal woman who comes from a family with a deep history of strong activism and cultural preservation. With the concept of dadirri fresh in my mind, I asked her about her views of Australia Day.  

For her, 26 January is the Day of Mourning. In her words: 

“A day of sad reflection. A time to grieve not only the mistreatment of First Nations people (my family), but the loss of our land, water, language, ceremony and sense of self. 

A time to remember the many thousands of Aboriginal men, women and children who did not survive these times and those of us that continue to be affected by past practices today”. 

The first ‘Day of Mourning and Protest’ was organised by Aboriginal rights activist, William Cooper and was held in Sydney in 1938, on the 150th anniversary of the First Fleet landing in Sydney Cove.  

While some people acknowledge the Day of Mourning, other people see that date as Invasion Day. They attend events, protests, and marches that reject the celebration of Australia Day on this date and calling for sovereignty and social justice for Indigenous Australians. 

Some people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, will be attending Australia Day events being held across the country.  

And some people, including me, will celebrate January 26th as Survival Day; an opportunity to recognise the survival of Indigenous people and culture despite colonisation and discrimination. Survival Day events include festivals like the Yabun Festival in Sydney, which is a celebration of Indigenous culture and achievements.  

One day, many meanings.  

Regardless of how each of us choose to spend 26 January 2020, perhaps we should quietly reflect on what that day could mean to others. And in reflecting, perhaps we can come to accept and appreciate our differences, so that we can begin to discover what it is we have in common.  

Below are some resources that might interest you:

Watch: NITV has dedicated programming across this week encouraging greater understanding of Indigenous perspectives on January 26. More details on the NITV website.

Listen: For those who prefer a podcast, this year’s Boyer Lecture features Rachel Perkins and centres on the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Click here to read more and stream.

Read: Guardian Australia News partners with IndigenousX to showcase the diversity of Indigenous peoples and opinions from around the country. It’s worth subscribing to the articles and you can also follow via @IndigenousX on Twitter. Another good read from The Guardian is this article about cultural burning and its ability to protect Australia from catastrophic blazes.