Every year, as the calendar ticks past the first week of January, a seed of anxiety that lives dormant in the pit of my stomach has its annual sprout. 

 Not because a return to work is just around the corner, nor because the glory of summer days are quickly slipping away, but because my most dreaded date of the year is just over the horizon: January 26th.

‘Australia Day’, ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Survival Day’, no matter what you call it, we can all agree it’s one of the most emotional and divisive days of the year in this country, and as an Aboriginal person, it’s one that has often exhausted and terrified me. 

And this is partly because the day itself doesn’t really start on the 26th. The discussion of it and the arguments it ignites, rear their heads well in advance and linger through to the end of the month. 

In my first years of adulthood, the saga would begin with the same question from a work colleague over lunch, a peer in a uni lecture or even a guy at a bar over a drink: ‘What are you doing for Australia Day?’ 

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But after a little while of answering that with exactly how I wouldn’t be celebrating and a solid rant about why they shouldn’t be either, these same types of people in my life began to use the looming date as an opportunity to pick a fight. To ask me again why the date should be changed, why I ‘hated Australia’ or why my people couldn’t just ‘get over it already’. 

These interactions in my personal life, layered with the gross anti-Black rhetoric in mainstream media and later on, the expectations of other, more well-meaning non-Indigenous people, of me to be their personal Aboriginal Google around the day, were what planted that seed of fear and dread. 

Growing up though, before my peers at school started listening to their parents enough to ask me why I didn’t call it ‘Australia Day’ or had the same Aussie flag temporary tattoos as them on my skin, my January 26ths actually began as days of thoughtful and beautiful contrasts. 

They actually energised me, they didn’t drain me. They would always begin with mourning and reflecting on our people’s recent history, sometimes at rallies, others just around the kitchen table at home with family, and were always followed by a celebration of our culture, our strength and our resilience at the Yabun Survival Day festival in Sydney.

And that’s how my Dad always made us refer to it – ‘Survival Day’ not ‘Invasion’. To him, the reference to the invasion, the focus on the violent action the first settlers took upon us, stripped us of our agency on that day. We were stronger than that, stronger than any invasion has ever been. They never truly conquered us, and we always have and always will be here. 

I’ve never stopped going to Yabun and I still find joy and beauty in the music, dance and time spent with family there every year, but I realise now, in recent times, my anger and frustration, my fear and exhaustion, has overpowered this important element of the day.

I’ve been so caught up in how far we haven’t come, how loud our opposition has felt and how much work has to be done, that I’ve forgotten about the relentless optimism I was raised with. 

Now it’s 2021, and the scenes of thousands of people, Black, white and otherwise, showing up online and on the streets, some coming to me with their hands up, vulnerable and wanting to do better, are fresh in my mind. 

The surge of the Black Lives Matter movement in Australia in 2020 reinvigorated my sense of hope. I am not naive to the fact that there’s surely individuals who shared their black squares on their Instagram feed and have since retired their activism, nor am I naive to how much hard and complex work there remains to be done. However,I truly believe the many ways the world has shown us that they’re fed up with the status quo in the past twelve months has indicated the wave of change we’ve been fighting for is here – and only rising. 

As this January 26th comes around, I think I’ll feel energised for a big year ahead and I hope I see those voices who committed to doing better last year, walking the walk. 

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To my Indigenous brothers and sisters, keep your head up, revel in our strength and the power that runs through your veins on this day and every day we have and continue to survive.

And to our allies, old and new, while we wait for those in power to make the change we all need to see, remember to tread lightly and respectfully, to listen to every Indigenous voice you can, challenge those around you to think more openly and maintain your energy and passion for this, all 365 days of the year. 

Marlee Silva is a Gamilaroi and Dunghutti storyteller and the Co-Founder of ‘Tiddas 4 Tiddas’. You can catch her on Instagram at @marlee.silva.

She is also part of the lineup for PEDESTRIAN.TV’s Selfish Sessions, A Virtual Self-Love Festival From February 24 t0 26, and you can find out all the deets about that here.

Image: Marlee Silva / Instagram / Getty