January 26 is currently observed as ‘Australia Day’, in memory of the day the First Fleet sailed into Port Jackson (now Sydney) in 1788 and began colonising Australia. It’s a distressing day for some people, because it marks the loss of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land and culture.
It’s likely that you’ve seen some media coverage surrounding the day. Every year, the conversation around changing the date grows.
If you’re an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, this discussion might be especially difficult. As Kuku-Yalanji artist Tiarna Herczeg noted, ‘Invasion Day’ and the weeks leading up to it are a time when Indigenous people do a lot of ‘reflection and mourning’.
Recently, she talked about the challenges she faces around January 26 and how she connects with her culture as a form of healing:
Here are some ways you can cope with the sense of unease you might be feeling around this day, and use this time to connect with First Nations culture.
Attend or volunteer at an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander festival
January 26 is a sad day for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, which is why marches protesting the current date of the ‘Australia Day’ celebrations take place on this day.
There are also events on this day which provide a space for First Nations people to celebrate their culture’s music, art and dance. Events like these might give you a chance to connect with like-minded people and feel a sense of community.
To find an event near you, search something like ‘January 26 First Nations events in [place where you live]'. There are also annual events which take place in some of Australia’s capital cities:
- Yabun Festival on Gadigal land in Sydney
- The ‘Share the Spirit’ festival in Naarm/Melbourne
- The Surival Day ceremony in Meeanjin/Brisbane held by the Benerrawa Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Group.
Start a conversation with a friend on the topic
Chatting to a friend can be really helpful if you’re feeling stressed or confused about January 26. Share what’s going on for you and ask them what being Australian means to them. If you’re a bit nervous about having a yarn, check out our 3 steps to better communication.
If you'd prefer to chat to a mental health service, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or contact 13YARN (13 92 76). Prefer chatting online? Check out the threads on this topic on the ReachOut Online Community.
Take time to connect with friends and family
Many of your family and friends may be feeling distressed about January 26, so it’s a good chance to support each other. It could be a great opportunity to connect with your Elders and get some support if you’re feeling down.
Connect to culture
January 26 is currently a public holiday, which means it can be a great opportunity to connect to your culture. Connecting to culture can have a really positive impact on your social and emotional wellbeing. Here are a few ideas:
- Check out some First Nations TV shows and films on ABC iView and SBS On Demand like Black Comedy, Samson and Delilah, Radiance and Cleverman.
- Explore your creative side if an art gallery near you is having an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander exhibition. Large libraries often have exhibitions, too.
- Many bush and coastal walks have a rich Aboriginal history, so you can get out in nature and connect with culture at the same time. Check out your state’s national park website for info before heading out.
Switch off from social media
If the conversation around January 26 is getting too much, it’s totally okay just to switch off. Pressing pause on social media can be great for the soul, and it’s fine not to contribute to discussions if it doesn’t feel right. Once you’re off social media, maybe think about some of the tips above – some time spent with family and friends, or a day to yourself, might be just what you feel like.
Changing the topic
It's likely that people you know, or even your family or friends, will have different opinions than you about January 26.
Just remember that conversations about this day aren’t always going to be constructive or healthy. If these conversations bring up anxiety or distress, you can change the topic of conversation or mention that you’d rather not talk about it.
What can I do now?
- If you’re feeling affected by the January 26 debate, talk to a trusted family member or friend, or contact a helpline.
- Chat to other young people about your perspectives on January 26 in the Yarning space on our Online Community.
- Visit the Yarn Up page to learn more about how you can stay safe and deal with challenges in your life like stress, conflict and anger.