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January 26: the contentious date that troubles Australians

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by Max O.

Australia Day continues to conflict the nation not only over what it attempts to  remember but what it chooses to forget and avoid. Unfortunately a great many Australians don't know what actually happened on the 26th; for that matter they are also unaware of much of what has occurred in Australian history, a result of an Anglophile education system.

Initially the First Fleet didn't arrive on the 26th January but landed at Botany Bay on the 19th. What became known as Sydney Harbour was discovered by the un-settler British fleet on the 21st, with Captain Phillip returning on the 25th and the rest of the fleet arriving on the 26th.

This settlement in Port Jackson used convict labour to set up a new trading post and naval refitting station for Britain's colonial empire. From this foothold began the invasion, dispossession and frontier wars against Indigenous nations of this island continent.

War over Australia's history
Ever since then Australia has been battling with itself over what has become known as the 'History Wars'. In the 19th century the frontier wars between the un-settlers and First Nations were recorded as a struggle between civilisation and backward savages. From this the remnant and uprooted Indigenous peoples were moved onto missions or became serf labour for wealthy whites. 

Then followed the Stolen Children, crushing of their cultures and continual persecutions to erase the problem of the 'dying black race'. The eradication of Indigenous peoples, either through embarrassment or racial superiority, was to become 'invisible history', better forgotten for everybody's sake.

Alongside the dispossession and persecutions of the First Nations was the class oppression of transported convicts; formerly peasants run off the land, who then had to slave in 'workhouses' or toil in the cruel 18th century factory system, where many fell on hard times and quite often falling foul of the law. Both were put to work to create value for the British colony.

When progressive academics started to break the silence and explain the truth about Indigenous Peoples in Australian history, the reactionary establishment (the capitalist superstructure of universities or right wing think-tanks) began their vitriolic attack against this heterodox of "political correctness" which became known as the  "Black arm-band view of history". 

It was only by the 1990's that many Australians started to become aware of Indigenous history and culture and similarly by the 1988 Bi-Centennial, those who had a convict heritage ceased being embarrassed and in fact became proud. 

In spite of the media fed prejudice against First Peoples, whether it be radio shock jocks like Neil Mitchell, journalists of the Andrew Bolt ilk or denialist historians such as Keith Windschuttle, a growing movement of non-indigenous Australian's are now pushing for changing relations with First Peoples.

Treachery is no stranger to the ALP. In the run up to the 2007 election the ALP's National Platform assured First Nations that it would change the date of Australia Day, an acknowledgement that the day was an offense to them. 

When Rudd became Labor Prime Minister he initially denied this promise and then did a volte-face with the infamous line: “To our Indigenous leaders, and those who call for a change to our national day, let me say a simple, respectful, but straightforward no.”

Alongside First Peoples protests against Australian Day parades there is a community push to 'Change The Date' of Australia Day. Media such as New MatildaThe Saturday Paper , and the small capitalist brewery from Adelaide, Sparkke, have come in behind to support the Twitter hash tag, #ChangeTheDate  campaign, and the Fremantle Council have decided to end the Australia Day fireworks display.

Regardless of the fact that they are essentially superficial measures, such as the Recognition Campaign to include First Peoples in a modified but archaic Australian Constitution, it does indicate a turning point has been reached by many Australians that they won't swallow any more of the 'white-wash arm-band view of history'.

Capitalism in Australia has been quite successful in adapting to and manipulating First Peoples' demands from the early days of 'Land Rights' and 'Self Determination'. With the loss of militancy by many in the Indigenous movement and support from a shrinking 'Left' after the seventies, it was easy pickings for mining corporations and the capitalist state to coopt Indigenous leaders and smother their campaigns.

Nevertheless capitalism doesn't liberate anyone, especially First Nations and the growing under class in Australia. For capitalism to continue it must expand by looting and accumulating more or become extinct. 

Finding new ways to contest a troubled day
In recent years sections of First Peoples have begun to regroup and challenge the capitalist status quo by opposition to national icons such as Anzac Day and Australia Day. Despite endeavours of 'forward-thinking capitalists' to dupe First Peoples' leaders to embrace entrepreneurial business practices the great mass of Indigenous people know they have to confront racial warfare on a daily basis.

The class divide of the British First Fleet that was brought to the shores of Australia turned both the later generations of un-settler convicts and First Peoples into wages slaves to expand capitalism. The symbolism of Australia Day cannot but fall short of uniting the nation because of the continual class and racial war that the system perpetuates.

Whilst Australia's 'History Wars' are far from over and the 26th will continue to be a date of conflict, unfortunately Australia Day is successfully marketed by capitalism amongst the great majority of the population. Self-righteous condemnation of the day on its own will achieve little support from most ordinary Australians. 

Avenues have to be found to forge unity between non-Indigenous working class and First Peoples to fight against the powerful marketing of a false day of national identity. Capitalism assails both the sovereignty of the First Nations and the working class to control their destiny fully in this world. 

This is where effort needs to be placed, drawing together the links between the class and racial struggles that go on every day in Australia, to achieve national and social liberation.


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