As we head towards another 26 January, the request to ‘change the date’ is still being hotly debated. Many early education services now choose not to celebrate a day that is a source of pain to many in our Indigenous population. However, others wonder if there’s still a way to acknowledge or approach the day respectfully, particularly when families are celebrating Australia day at home and children may be discussing it with their educators.
We asked early education resource specialist and Dunghutti woman Deborah Hoger to reflect on the topic.
By Deborah Hoger
26 January is the date on which Britain’s First Fleet sailed into Sydney Harbour in 1788, beginning the European colonisation which resulted in trauma and dispossession for our First Nations communities.
It’s a date that marks the beginning of the end of over 60,000 years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s control over their country and lives. This is why for many, January 26 is not referred to as Australia Day, but rather, Invasion Day or Survival Day.
Celebrating our national day on such a date, by nature then, excludes our First Nations peoples. Hence the push to change the date to one which can be celebrated by ALL Australians, including our First Nations peoples.
There are actually very few former British colonies that celebrate their national day on the actual day of colonisation. In New Zealand for example, their national day is Waitangi Day. This day marks the anniversary of the initial signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, regarded as the founding document of the nation (read more about this topic in New Matilda).
A day that requires careful reflection and insight
Given the ongoing division in Australia around January 26 as our national day, the question of how to approach Australia Day in an educational setting can be a difficult one which requires careful and deliberate reflection and insight. Certainly, no one can say there is a single correct way to navigate this controversial day.
What educators can do, however, is actively seek out places, people and resources which help to build on their own understanding. In the weeks leading up to this date, take the time to reach out to your local Indigenous community and gain their insight and opinions. Narragunnawali, SNAICC‑the national voice for our children, Reconciliation Australia, and Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) are also all great starting points for further research.
Australia Day cannot truly function as a day of unification for all Australians while it is still observed on 26 January. The date itself marks a critical point in the history of Australia where our First Nations people began to be dispossessed and exploited, leading to cultural destruction, poverty, intergenerational trauma and discrimination.
So, how can educators position themselves to respectfully approach such a day, and how can they facilitate spaces where children can explore what it means to be Australian?
Early Childhood Australia provides some apt advice:
“Navigating how services approach 26 January may be more complex for some educators and in some communities than for others. The skills, resources and support required may depend on the nature of your setting, the team and leadership you work with, and the children and families in your community. Where opinions differ or debate becomes heated, it’s important to stay engaged, listen and be respectful. Try to stay with the discussion if you can, rather than stifle or turn away from it, just as you would address difficult conversations, disrespect or incomplete understanding between colleagues, among groups of children or with families on other matters” (The Spoke).
As an Aboriginal mum of two little ones, I would mirror these thoughts.
Respect and cultural understanding are critical to engaging around this date; showing empathy and awareness of the diverse feelings that some of your children’s families may be experiencing around this date is important.
Consider how the activities you may be planning for this day may make some people feel. Are there ways you can create a program of events which demonstrate respect for and appreciation of our First Nations peoples?
If nothing else, the division around this date offers a reminder for educators to take a critical look at Australia’s history, particularly the shared history between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians.
How Tyabb Village Children’s Centre approaches January 26
Tyabb Village Children’s Centre’s philosophy makes a strong statement of respect and inclusion for Australia’s First Peoples. Rather than ‘celebrating’ on January 26th, they use the day for annual planning and professional development.
The following statement comes from their letter of employment:
|We remember the atrocities of Australia’s history and we work together with our Indigenous communities to raise awareness and improve knowledge to ensure these actions are not repeated in the present day and in our future.
We will embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives within our community, the children’s programs, the “Village” environment and in all operational documents.
We will work hard to achieve change for societal thinking about inclusion and speak the truth to those who become part of the “Village” family.
That is why at Tyabb Village Children’s Centre we choose not to celebrate Australia Day in its current format. We will use this day instead, as a day of annual planning and professional development for the entire team. We do not recognise January 26th as a day of pride in Australia’s history.
On this day we encourage all of our staff to attend the workplace as usual, however, we will respect each individual’s perspective accordingly. Staff who choose to attend this annual planning day will receive their contracted hourly rate for each hour they participate. This will be over and above your standard Public Holiday pay.
We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic including how you approach Australia Day with the children in your centre.
CELA professional development relating to this topic