Vol 13 Issue 2
By Tilly Houghton
Each January 26, the Invasion Day rally gets bigger, the momentum visibly gaining, and people seem to be more aware of why (even if they like sitting in a paddle pool all day sinking tallies and punching darts*), the date could change. Even in the wake of knowing the extents and limitations of native title, I’m hopeful that we will eventually get to a treaty. That we will recognise the value of Indigenous ontologies in solving problems and that perhaps, maybe, they won’t be distorted by private enterprise too quickly. That the Commonwealth will make concerted efforts to work with leaders within communities and not against them in developing policy. The idea for this article started as a desire to analyse the characteristically cynical discomfort I have for the forms of virtue-signalling that consist of posting photos of the Invasion Day rally to social media. But without solidarity, we’re all fated to spend another few decades getting distracted by the divisiveness of the current political climate. Solidarity entails mutual responsibility and interdependency. That, to my mind, means knowing that there are rightfully many people who are angered at the current discourse on changing the date because it detracts from the glaring inadequacies of the present system. If the onus is placed on Indigenous people to discuss and challenge continued inequities, then that burden is placed on a statistically small number of people – some of whom may be tired of continuing the call for change alone.
We need look no further than last year’s anniversary of the Royal Commission into deaths in custody, or the death of Elijah Doughty, to understand that the rights of Indigenous peoples in this country need to be brought into focus more often than the 26th. We are only now beginning to understand the history of this continent in a way that acknowledges the effects of genocide, displacement, and intergenerational trauma on Indigenous populations. If we had any common sense as a country, we’d acknowledge the rich, fascinating cultures that have existed here since time immemorial, and take pride in the fact that this is a nation with a strong history, from which we could learn a great deal—if we had the common sense.
Race is a focal point of the national discourse at present. When the discussion of Indigenous recognition results in a bipartisan “perhaps we do need to think about this,” when former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd decides that perhaps Manus and Nauru weren’t as good an idea as was anticipated, and when racial discrimination is as prevalent as ever, the emerging conclusion is that without solidarity, we will not make any progress. Being a student at Melbourne Law School imports a responsibility that comes from receiving this education. That is, a commitment to justice, and to integrity. The onus is on you to use the skills that you have for the benefit of, and in solidarity with people who need it—it’s a remarkably simple concept that is often lost in the static of national discourse. For MLS, it gets lost in the idea that the law is, in every instance, the great equaliser. The fact that a small, but vocal, corner of the De Minimis comments section still questions Indigenous sovereignty as a political objective is indicative of the nature of some of the issues we face as a profession. It is a political objective (as well as being an indisputable fact) because law itself is political – but the focus on the judicial branch of government obscures this aspect of what many of us will go on to do.
Somehow, the idea that one must believe in the brotherhood of man was lost. In its wake, what is left is a deeply angry and divided nation. In the absence of leadership, the gauntlet has instead been thrown at the feet of the Australian populace. As people who will one day have a tangible effect on how this country is to develop, we share that responsibility. The unchecked cynicism I have as to why it is that each year, my social media is flooded with hashtags to #changethedate when the entire system feels irreparably broken. Perhaps it comes down to the idea that performative allyship, as a problem to be addressed, would be too easy. Yes, we owe it to the owners of this land to make a concerted effort to ensure that the sovereignty among all Indigenous groups is recognised. My discomfort lies in the fact that it can often become an all too easy demonstration of the goodness of the white people at rallies. Is this too cynical of me? Prove me wrong—but aside from that hashtag, what else have we done to assist the people who could benefit from our voices?
Collectively, we’re getting there. The general populace has started scrutinising the extent of racism and violence that has previously characterised the history of this nation. Yes, we’ll get to a treaty. Immigration politics will shift. Race will cease to be a means of gaining political favour in the lead up to elections. But it will take the collective efforts of the entire population to get there. And, more importantly, it will take self-reflection on the part of everyone who has benefited from systemic racism to make a change. It only takes humility, respect, and the desire to help the people we should be grateful towards. Always was, always will be.
*You can take the girl out of Queensland…
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