Today is the anniversary of the British colonisation of Australia in 1788. On this day, after a voyage of roughly 8 months, 1,500 British ‘officers, crew, marines and their families, and convicts’ disembarked on shores inhabited by the Eora nation.
At great cost to the original inhabitants, the British established the colony of New South Wales, thus laying the foundation for a new nation, Australia, which was formalised by the federation of the various British settlements throughout the continent over 100 years later on 1 January 1901.
If you go to the site of that first landing any day of the week, you’ll be greeted by the sight and sound of Aboriginal buskers playing the didgeridoo.
Celebrating the 26th of January remains controversial. Canberra University Chancellor Dr Tom Calma explains the issues with a lovely clarity here, and blogger/commentator Eugenia Flynn explores why even Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people have divergent opinions on whether to use the day to highlight the continued racism and discrimination they experience, to emphasise the survival of their people and cultures against the odds, or to just celebrate and put the past behind them.
Personally I think there’s a lot to celebrate about being Australian and I deeply love this country, but I believe that celebration shouldn’t be at the cost of, or insensitive to, the first people. If there was a referendum about Australia Day, I’d be voting to move it to the anniversary of federation, or perhaps some other date. Like if there was a treaty that acknowledged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people’s prior ownership of the land, that’s a date I’d celebrate.
But the problem with Australia Day is not just about the date. The day also puts a spotlight on our national ignorance (and prejudice) about the history of colonisation, and about Indigenous peoples’ histories and cultures. That’s why I’ve set myself this Indigenous Reading Challenge for 2015, and why I’m inviting you to participate: to better understand the experiences and cultures of the traditional custodians of the land we live on.
You don’t have to live in Australia to do this. If you live in another country with an Indigenous population, I encourage you read books by and about the first peoples of your land. If you live in a country where there isn’t a disenfranchised indigenous population, I invite you to broaden your horizons and understanding. And if you are Indigenous yourself, then you probably don’t need this challenge but if you’d like to participate I’d love to read your recommendations and reviews.
There are only 3 rules:
- Read 5 books (or listen to 5 substantial podcasts) before the end of 2015. You can of course do more if you want, but I know we are all time-poor.
- At least 3 of these should be by Indigenous people
- At least 3 should relate to the Indigenous people of your own country (if possible).
Please use the comments below to share book suggestions, to commit to taking the challenge, share your reviews and opinions or just to provide an update on what you’ve read. If you post a review on your own blog, please link back and tag your post ‘Indigenous Reading Challenge’. Or you can share your thoughts on my Facebook page.
Not sure where to start?
Wiradjuri author Anita Heiss lists 99 ‘must reads’ by Aboriginal authors on her blog, and the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge also provides links to titles and resources. These are excellent starting points. Then to narrow it down you could decide to:
- Read only books relating to the area where you live (the language group, or state/territory)
- Focus on a particular theme, such as art, sport, politics, or the environment
- Read only autobiographies, or only poetry, or only plays (and maybe then watch the film version)
- Read only Indigenous authors, but choose a range from different places on the political spectrum
- Take a historical approach: read a book for every century of colonisation to trace the interactions and impact.
Or like me, you could be completely haphazard in your approach. I’m planning to start with Marcia Langton’s famous Boyer lecture series on Aboriginal people, mining, and the environment movement. After that, who knows? Will you join me? What will be on your list?
I pay respect to the elders (past and present) of the Cadigal people of the Eora Nation on whose land I live.
The image at the top of this post is a shot of some fabric featuring designs by Aboriginal artists that I found in — of all places — Spotlight. All the fabrics include the names of design and designer in the selvedge. I imagine the patterns are based on very old designs used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people well before colonisation, which is why I use the image — as a reminder that there were people on this continent for many millennia before the British arrived.
This challenge was inspired in part by Kinna’s Africa Reading Challenge. I take a lot of trouble to educate myself about Africa because of my family links to Africa, but I decided I need to also pay attention to the gaps in my knowledge about Aboriginal Australia.