Opinion: New national day needed for true healing and reconciliation

Headshot of Elise Van Aken
Elise Van AkenMidwest Times
There’s an elephant in the room every Australia Day.
Camera IconThere’s an elephant in the room every Australia Day. Credit: Don Lindsay/The West Australian

A week and a day has passed since Australia Day, and the change-the-date debate has been as swiftly placed back on to the shelf of topical arguments as it was dusted off mid-January.

But the conversation cannot be put on hold for another year if any change is going to be made, and should not be dismissed as a symbolic gesture that breath is wasted on, which should instead be channelled into making practical change.

A new national day is needed to truly mend the relationship between Indigenous people and walybala (Wajarri for white man).

Change is being made every day.

Government money is being poured into programs led by specialist organisations, headed by dedicated elders and worked on tirelessly by caring workers from both cultures to give disadvantaged people the help they need to succeed.

But what is still missing is true healing between the hearts of all Australians.

Many people may feel we’ve been there, done that — that Kevin Rudd said sorry in 2008 and now it’s time to look to the future.

We mark NAIDOC week, National Sorry Day and even changed a word in our national anthem, but we are far from one and free.

Almost daily encounters I’ve had show people’s real attitudes to each other, Indigenous and otherwise, confirming we have not scratched the surface of the reconciliation needed to give practical steps the best chance at succeeding. 

Even though many of us, myself too at one stage, felt confused or even made into villains by the national apology because we ourselves didn’t have anything to do with the degradation of land, dispossession of culture and division of families, our heritages have been built on these decisions.

We have benefited from the position colonisers claimed, and the effects of this have continued to run through generations, manifesting in disadvantage in many aspects of Indigenous people’s lives. 

It’s like

when you have an argument with a friend or partner.

The times you actually talk the problem out and resolve your feelings are when you can better move on, rather than agreeing to disagree and trying to move forward on the unstable back of the elephant in the room, with your thoughts gnawing at how you feel in the back of your mind.

So January or May 26, National Sorry Day and NAIDOC week should not be the only times we as a country or individuals consider Indigenous issues, rally to change dates, or cry out to solve the problems.

The time to make change, of dates and otherwise, is now and every day. Well, it’s all well and good for me to bang on about what should be done, but do I have an actual solution?

My idea would be to bring Sorry Day to January 26 and rename it Sorry and Survival Day.

Then the next day could be Australia Day, marking coming together to move forward and celebrate our modern country.

The best part? We’ll be guaranteed two public holidays in a row, making it extra special for everyone.

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