I remember the first ‘Australia Day’ party I attended. I’d just moved to Adelaide in pursuit of a girl. We were texting heaps, were hanging out, and eventually we started dating. One day, one of her friends was having a pool party. It was a great opportunity to meet them all, and that I did. We laughed, we drank, we listened to Triple J’s hottest 100.
It was a load of fun. I remember getting so drunk that I almost passed out on the footpath in front of the next-door neighbours. She offered to call an ambulance, but I said I was fine. I couldn’t walk. But I was fine. The only person I remember even having any kind Australian paraphernalia was me.
I was a broke 19-year-old who studied and worked at Coles a few days a week. The only thongs I could afford had the Australian Flag slapped on them, were made in China, and cost $3 from where I worked. They lasted less than a week.
This happened for the next couple years. I’d never celebrated ‘Australia Day’ before moving to Adelaide. I don’t even remember ever knowing what it was. Truth be told I never have. I’ve gotten pissed and had a good time. Hell, I used to drink on most of my days off, this really wasn’t any different.
My then partner and I broke up, and the tradition continued for a little while after that. I’d made new friends, and they did exactly the same thing. Get pissed. Swim. Play cricket. Whatever you do when your young, old enough to buy beer and aren’t at work. It was literally what we did most of the time, that day just had a label attached.
I’d grown up ignorant. Uneducated. I didn’t even know what racism really was.
My First Nation’s (Wongatha) dad had left when I was a kid. School didn’t teach the true history of colonisation. So, like many before me, I didn’t learn how this country became until I was an adult.
Getting back in touch with my father also helped, I’d never in my life denied who I was, but that contact only enforced my need to be who I am. I went and lived on country with him for a while, but life still took me to Adelaide.
Less than a decade after getting back into regular contact with him, he died by suicide.
His death drove me to a dark place. I started to question why so many of my dad’s side of the family had died that way. I started to come across Facebook pages that spoke of Genocide, Deaths in Custody, Slavery and more. I’d known the story of our family for a long time, but I read a book about my great grandparents and it really messed with me.
I realised that I am not supposed to be alive. Literally.
A.O. Neville targeted my family. If it wasn’t for the sheer determination of my great grandparents to be together, I would not be here writing this. The more I read, the more I learnt, the more I grew as a person. But I also realised that nearly every Aboriginal family had a story like this.
If that wasn’t enough, I also began to see how the mentally ill and homeless are treated in this country. How immigrants and refugees are treated. I couldn’t handle it. There was just no way I could celebrate ‘Australia Day’ anymore.
Then, one day I saw that there was a Survival Day event only a few kilometres from where I lived, and they needed volunteers. So, I put my hand up. The day came, and I got in my car and started driving down the boulevard, I was only at the second set of lights when a blue sedan with ‘p’ plates pulled up next to me.
“BOONG” was screamed out of the car into my rolled down window as the car screeched through a red light.
Most people see me as someone of Mediterranean descent, so I guess they saw my bumper sticker. It read ‘Aboriginal born, and proud’.
That was 6 years ago. I haven’t celebrated January 26 since, and I will support every call to action I see.
#changethedate. #changethenation. #abolishaustraliaday.
Travis Akbar is a Wongatha man living on Peramangk country, Adelaide. He is a film critic and freelance writer. Follow Travis @TravAkbar.Image: Getty Images