With National Reconciliation Week running from today until June 3, young people around Perth say there needs to be a public holiday to recognise Indigenous Australians.
Inkwire spoke to students from the University of Western Australia, Challenger Institute of Technology and Comet Bay Primary School, many of whom said that Indigenous Australians deserved more recognition.
There is no public holiday that acknowledges the contribution of Australia’s first peoples, whose 500-plus nations share the distinction of having the oldest continuous human cultures on Planet Earth.
The students said that a day for Indigenous people would be far more respected than most public holidays which are quite often taken for granted.
There are many days devoted to Aboriginal culture, remembrance and celebration. But the vast majority of non-Indigenous Australians are neither part of nor aware of these.
Jim Maher, an Aboriginal elder and former member of the Swan Indigenous Reference Group, said there was no public holiday because there is no recognition of Indigenous people in the Australian Constitution and they are regarded as a minority group.
Mr Maher said such a day would help unite Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians in stepping toward a more respectful country.
Challenger student Jade Jardine, a member of Perth’s Noongar community, said it was not fair Australia had so many public holidays yet none for the original owners of the land.
“It would be nice for there to be a day where Indigenous culture takes over the country and everyone can learn from and enjoy it,” she said.
Two of Australia’s most revered public holidays are ANZAC Day and Australia Day. Each year, on January 26, Australia Day commemorates the day British settlers (or invaders, depending on which side of the geopolitical fence you stand) first landed at Port Jackson in 1788.
Braydon Graham is an engineering student at UWA. Mr Graham’s mother is a Noongar woman and his father is a Ngadju man from Western Australia’s Goldfields.
Mr Graham said that when much of Australia gets together to celebrate Australia Day, the sacrifice of the Aboriginal people is usually forgotten.
“Australia day for us is full of mixed emotions,” he explained.
“We look at it as either Invasion Day or Survival Day.
“It’s a day where we feel angry that white men barged in and tried to force people to reject their Aboriginality and a day to commend our ancestors who fought to keep our race and culture from being completely wiped out.”
Mr Graham and his family attend many Indigenous events throughout the year including National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee week in July and the annual National Sorry Day which was observed yesterday.
He said he hoped a public holiday would be introduced so Australia might learn about the history and traditions of Aboriginal culture and build relationships to see a better future together.
“We have ANZAC Day to remember those who fought for our country,” he said.
“However, very little appreciation is given to the Indigenous people who volunteered to serve.
“It is important for us as a nation to remember the lost Aborigines and the sacrifices they have made.”
Year Seven students of Comet Bay Primary School in Perth’s southern suburbs have been learning about Australian history for a semester now.
Connor Siekman, 11, said Australia should have a minute silence specifically for Aboriginal people who lost their lives in wars protecting a nation they had virtually no rights in.
Marches, fashion parades, bonfires, storytelling, singing and dancing were the main performances the primary school students said they would love to see organised for the public. The students also suggested cooking classes, art lessons and music lessons to allow for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to get together.
“They were so unfairly treated, their families separated unexpectedly and the whites tried to wipe their race out,” student Ken Trujo said.
“The least we can do is give up a day to pay our respects and show Indigenous [people] they deserve a place on the calendar.”
Photography: Amy Fairhead
Categories: Aboriginal affairs