Like any historical moment, January 26, 1788, changed forever the continent that became the Commonwealth of Australia (on January 1, 1901). This was to be expected since Britain, the most technologically advanced country of its time, established the settlement on the land of Aboriginal tribes, one of the most traditional societies then in existence.
In recent years it has become increasingly fashionable for some Australians to regard holding Australia Day on January 26 as a manifestation of what they regard as a divided nation: a permanent separation between those who identify as indigenous and those who do not.
Australians who want to abolish the celebration of Australia Day on January 26 include some indigenous leaders. But the call has been driven by the left intelligentsia who are alienated from the society in which they have done so well. For example, it is Greens-dominated councils and well-off inner-city areas such as Darebin and Yarra in Melbourne as well as Byron Shire on the NSW north coast that have led the campaign not to conduct citizenship ceremonies on January 26.
Yet the division between indigenous and other Australians is not quite what it seems. From 1788 there has been constant interaction between the two groups — with more than two centuries of intermarriages or inter-partnerships. This has led to a situation where the overwhelming majority of Australians who identify as indigenous have some Anglo-Celtic, or European, or Asian or other ancestors. In short, most indigenous Australians are part of what became a successful multicultural society.
In an address in January 2009, indigenous Australian Mick Dodson described January 26 as an occasion that was regarded by “many indigenous Australians” as the day their “world came crashing down”. He said “many of our people call it invasion day”. But it’s more complicated than this.
In 2003 Kevin Keefe’s biography of Patrick Dodson (Mick Dodson’s older brother) titled Paddy’s Road was published by the Aboriginal Studies Press. It tells the compelling story of the success of the man who went on to become a Labor Party senator in 2016. Keefe’s book provides detail about the Irish Dodsons, who settled in the mid-19th century in the Gippsland area of what was then the colony of Victoria.
Writing about Paddy’s Road in The Australian in August 2003, journalist Stuart Rintoul commented that Keefe’s work had led the Dodson family to a knowledge of their Irish ancestors. This is not an unfamiliar tale as a growing interest in genealogy, along with developments in medical science, opens up the living to the previously untold tales of the dead.
No considered Australian doubts the suffering and death occasioned by European settlement in 1788, much by the unintentional importation into a traditional society of disease and some due to killings as settlers clashed with Aborigines on the edge of settlement and far away from the seat of the British administration.
But the difficult point is this: without 1788 and all that, Mick Dodson would not be part of the world. Contemporary Australia would be a completely different place where the locals have no non-indigenous ancestors.
Journalist and writer Stan Grant made a similar point when addressing the Sydney Institute in 2017. He quoted an indigenous Australian who stated that his ancestors were part invaded and part invaders.
Grant is one of several indigenous leaders who proudly acknowledge one or more non-indigenous ancestors — in his case, a grandparent.
Likewise Jacinta Price, who is running for the Coalition in the Northern Territory seat of Lingiari in this year’s election. She describes herself as a Warlpiri-Celtic woman from Alice Springs.
The issue of Australians with both indigenous and non-indigenous DNA became a matter of controversy following the decision of Federal Court judge Mordy Bromberg in Eatock v Bolt in which columnist and presenter Andrew Bolt was found to have breached the Racial Discrimination Act with respect to what were termed “fair-skinned Aboriginal people”.
Bromberg found some errors of fact in two columns written by Bolt. But he also referred to the columnist’s “tone” and the necessity to “read between the lines” to gauge his meaning. Tone is a subjective assessment, as is the reference to what is allegedly written “between the lines”.
It turns out artist Bindi Cole Chocka, who was one of the nine indigenous Australians who took the case against Bolt, has changed her view. Appearing on Sky News’ The Bolt Report last November, she said that she probably would not join such an action today.
Chocka, who has a grandmother with Aboriginal heritage, has decided to no longer identify as indigenous. This follows her exposure to political conservatism and her embrace of Christianity. She told The Weekend Australian in November that “there is a problem with identity politics and intersectionality”, and added that “when you do identify in these ways, you are so often buying into a victim identity”.
Any fair assessment of January 26 is that it is a recognition of the success of Australia as a tolerant, accepting, multicultural society. Despite the nation’s sins of commission and omission, modern Australia developed without a war of independence or a civil war — one or both of which afflicted such nations as the US, Britain and Ireland.
In Australia the level of intermarriage or inter-partnerships between racial groups (including indigenous Australians) is relatively high compared with most nations. And the level of race-motivated crime is relatively low. This is the real test as to whether a nation is tolerant and accepting.
Apart from a very small number of Australians who have only indigenous DNA, we are immigrants or the offspring of one or more immigrants. Ideally this should be the message of January 26.
However, since the influential left intelligentsia is alienated not only from Western civilisation but also their own society, it is likely that the campaign to junk January 26 as Australia Day will continue apace. Despite the fact so many Australians of so many varied backgrounds will continue to celebrate the fact they are here today because governor Arthur Phillip arrived here in 1788.