Protesting Australia Day has a long and proud history. Aboriginal people and their supporters have been resisting since this day of national celebration started on 26 January 1935 to mark the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet into Port Jackson in 1788. The colonisers did not settle an empty land. They invaded a continent that was home to more than 500 nations. For Aboriginal people, this began a genocidal war against the oldest culture on earth.
Escalating opposition. In 1938, pioneering Aboriginal activists challenged the official sesquicentenary party by holding a Day of Mourning to demand equality. On the Australia Day bicentenary in 1988, more than 40,000 joined a multiracial march through central Sydney, led by 15,000 Aboriginal people from across the country.
The term “Invasion Day” is now used widely. In 2017, 50,000 people blocked central Melbourne, outnumbering those taking part in the earlier Australia Day parade. A.B. Original’s catchy protest song, January 26, came in 16th on the Triple J Hottest 100 annual music listener poll. And in 2018, the radio station will move the countdown from Australia Day to the fourth Saturday of the month, responding to clear messages from listeners and the music industry. In its announcement, the ABC station said it was “heavily involved in the growing dialogue around Indigenous recognition and perspectives on 26 January.”
In 2016 Freemantle Council cancelled Australia Day activities, instead holding a multicultural event later in the month called One Day in Freo. This began a movement, with Darebin, Moreland and Yarra Councils in Melbourne and Hobart Council in Tasmania coming on board.
Nazis, draped in the national flag. The Turnbull government swiftly retaliated, withdrawing these Councils’ right to hold their annual citizenship ceremonies.
The Councils also attracted the wrath of neo-Nazis — or patriots, as they call themselves. Fascists fan fears around issues as diverse as a mosque in Bendigo, same-sex marriage equality, youth crime, settling refugees or family law recognising the rights of women in attempts to attract people on a particular issue and draw them into the far-right movement. Wrapped in the Australian flag and posing as defenders of the Aussie BBQ, they’ve mounted an attack on the growing movement to dump Australia Day.
Led by Neil Erikson, the Party for Freedom has disrupted Council meetings. On 27 September, they barged into a public hearing conducted by Moreland Council. Their placard saying “Communist council beheads Australia Day” made it clear they see the Left as their arch enemy. Erikson and his mates were surprised to find anti-fascists from the Freedom Socialist Party, Radical Women and the Indigenous Social Justice Association – Melbourne amongst the community groups. FSP, RW and ISJA, which have faced off Erikson many times as part of Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF), were there to testify in support of the Free Speech Moreland Campaign against undemocratic changes to local laws. They led chants of “No-Nazis, Never Again” and “Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.” The disrupters failed to intimidate.
When faced with the threat of a second visit from the neo-Nazis, Yarra Council showed how to deal with them. Socialist councilor, Stephen Jolly, approached CARF and No Room for Racism to mobilise a defence. Up against a disciplined and unified counter-mobilisation, the fascists backed off.
Not just the date. The outpouring of solidarity with Indigenous Australia and the growing recognition that 26 January is a day of mourning, not something to celebrate, is inspiring. But solidarity between First Nations people and multicultural Australia requires more than a change of date. Besides its genocidal racism, Australia Day promotes reactionary nationalism — the idea that we, whose wages and lands are stolen, have common cause with the thieves in control, not with the exploited and oppressed in other countries.
The truth is different. Australia is a society built on the stolen lands of the First Nations. It is also built on the shameful legacy of the White Australia policy. And it is a society divided by class — haves versus have-nots. The flag waving, jingoism and parades are designed to make working people believe in a mythical national interest, based on the lie that we’re all in it together. The blossoming of solidarity between First Nations people and Australians from all backgrounds is abhorrent to neo-Nazis — and to the representatives of big capital, who will back these forces when bourgeois democracy can no longer hold down people conscious of our common interests and ready to bring this brutal system down.