Warning: This article contains images of people who have passed away.
What is January 26 and why is it important?
January 26 is a difficult day for a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. While many people believe that it celebrates the arrival of Captain Cook on the shores of Botany Bay, the day actually marks when Arthur Phillip raised the British flag at Warrane (Sydney Cove) in 1788.
The Gadigal People of the Eora Nation, the Traditional Owners of Warrane (Sydney Cove), have never ceded sovereignty to the British nation. In order to claim ‘Australia’, the continent was labelled as ‘terra nullius’, meaning ‘land belonging to no-one’.
The hundreds of vast and complex Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations and Societies were characterised as ‘flora and fauna’. This date also marks the beginning of a process of genocide that directly impacted all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. It is for this reason that many people find the celebration of January 26 outdated and offensive.
However, for some First Nations Peoples, it is just another day. Others celebrate it.
Some call it the Day of Mourning, Invasion Day, or Survival Day, recognising the incredible strength and resilience of First Nations Communities who have continually fought against colonisation. These ideas also honour the Ancestors who have fought for the survival of their languages, cultures and Countries. Everyone will have a different view about what this day represents, how they feel about it, and what should be done.
Did you know that January 26 was marked as a Day of Mourning by First Nations people before it was a national holiday called Australia Day. Source: AIATSIS
Many First Nations people throughout Australia use January 26 as an opportunity to connect with others in their Community. People gather at events throughout the country to sit down together, yarn, reflect, and connect.
While the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) has regional staff in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, it was founded on Gadigal Country and that is where most of our staff work.
It is for this reason that it is extremely important for the ILF to have a relationship with other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations in Sydney, to respect, support and build relationships with the Communities in which we live and work.
The ILF has proudly been involved in and supporting the Yabun Festival on January 26 for many years.
Yabun Festival on Gadigal Country was founded in 2001 following the Survival Day events that occurred in Sydney in the 1990s.
The ILF has participated in this festival for many years, and often holds a stall to give away merch and sell books.
While Yabun is an event to honour the strengths of First Nations Peoples and Communities, it is also a space where all people are welcome and encouraged to come along.
Many non-Indigenous people show their solidarity and support by attending events like Yabun and joining in on important conversations about First Nations peoples’ hopes for the present and future.
It is these collective gatherings that are not about January 26 itself, but about celebrating connection to people and place.
They are opportunities to build relationships and bring people together, centering culture.
It is also an opportunity for all Australians to listen to and engage with First Nations knowledge systems.
Other ways to engage with January 26
Incorporating Indigenous knowledge in your teaching
It is important for Australians to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing into teaching all year round. This is always worthwhile. The ILF has a range of resources available for teachers and schools, including the Indigenous Literacy Day annual FILMs, the Country Tells Us When… Teacher Resources by ILF Ambassador Shelley Ware, ILF books, and more resources on our website.
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Show up, read, listen, watch
This year’s NAIDOC theme is ‘Keep the Fire Burning! Blak, Loud and Proud’. This theme “encapsulates the unapologetic celebration of Indigenous identity, empowering us to stand tall in our heritage and assert our place in the modern world,” says National NAIDOC Committee Co-Chair, Steven Satour. Consider how you can engage with this theme, not just during NAIDOC Week, but throughout the year.
Many people believe that the only way to protest against colonisation is through rallies. However, First Nations Peoples across the country protest on January 26 by releasing music, films, podcasts, artwork, plays, and more.
If you are looking to engage with these things, there are numerous ways to get involved. Check out this extensive list of protests, festivals, dawn services and more throughout the country. If you are based in Sydney, you can also check out ILF Ambassador Anita Heiss’ play, Tiddas, at Belvoir Theatre, or listen to some live music at the Powerhouse Museum at the Blak Power House event. You can also check out the Australian Museum’s extensive exhibitions.
There are also online events happening by Children’s Ground and more available HERE.
Watching for little ones and families
Watching for adults
This documentary from the perspective of a 10 year-old boy in Alice Springs explored the balance of his traditional Arrernte/Garrwa upbringing with a state education.
- Country Tells Us When… by Tsheena Cooper, Mary Dann, Daliasa Pigram-Ross and Sharee Ford
- We Look, We Find by Women and Children from the Napranum Community
- Shordi Krik by Students from Barunga School with Justine Clarke
- Tiwi Seasons with Marius by Tiwi College with Shelley Ware and David Lawrence
- Winthali by Joe Willigan Ross, Stacey Bush, Remi Nyandat Ross and Boheme Baiana Ross
- In My Blood it Runs by Dujuan Hoosan, Margaret Anderson and Carol Turner
- Etta and the Shadow Taboo by J.M. Field and Jeremy Worrall
- Back on Country by Adam Goodes and Ellie Laing
- A Footy Tail by Alex Johnston and illustrated by ILF Ambassador Gregg Dreise
- Little J and Big Cuz: The Stormy Night by Adam Thompson and Tony Thorne
- Murli la - Song and Stories of the Tiwi Islands by Ngarukuruwala Women’s Group
- Growing up Aboriginal in Australia by Anita Heiss
- Dropbear by Evelyn Araleun
- Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
- Right Story, Wrong Story: Adventures in Indigenous Thinking by Tyson Yunkapporta
- Australia Day by Stan Grant
- Sister Girl by Jackie Huggins
- Songlines: The Power and Promise (First Knowledges) by Margo Neale and Lynne Kelly
- Another Day in the Colony by Chelsea Watego
Whatever way you engage with January 26, make sure that culture, inclusion, and connection are centred.
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