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On January 26 we must learn to look invasion in the eye

Written by: Lindy Nolan on 25 January 2021


When James Cook scouted Gweagal and other lands in 1770, he did not see farming or trade. He saw strong, healthy Peoples defending their lands. He saw the rich wetlands and waters of Kamay, teeming with food.

His orders were to make treaty for trade. He knew the lands were not empty, with shots fired to prove it. But First Peoples had no goods Britain wanted except the land itself*. 

Treaty was unnecessary. Invasion, called “settlement”, was recommended. 

Cook’s report lay unnoticed until Britain lost the American Revolutionary War. The forces of revolution, and for independence in British colonies like Ireland and India, grew stronger. So did Britain’s colonialist rivals, especially France. 

The century before it invaded what is now called Australia, Britain fought seven wars against France and its allies, in total nearly 50 years. Soldiers and sailors were expendable. 

In stark contrast, clan battles here stopped when there was injury or death. People were too precious to waste. 

When its “first fleet” set out for these shores, British ruling class fear was at fever pitch. Its jails were full of the poor, often rural folk denied access to common lands by the 1773 Enclosure Act.

British trade and maritime power needed a base to keep out the French and as a dumping ground for convicts. Such high ideals! Such cause for celebration!

Mourning, survival, invasion

January 26 marks the day Captain Arthur Phillip claimed sovereignty of NSW for Britain. 

First Peoples live it as a Day of Mourning, Survival and Invasion. Sovereignty was never ceded. 

British colonialism still holds sway through Australia’s constitution, the former colonies rebirthed as states, its parliamentarians who swear allegiance, not to the people, but to a foreign Queen. 

But the power behind the parliamentary facade has long since passed to US imperialism and its corporations. Monopoly capitalism has taken over where divine right of kings left off.

In Covid times, “governments” pretend moral outrage at rallies and marches. But they ignore unfettered capitalist encroachment on wild areas and growth of mega-cities that make pandemics inevitable. 

They ignore also the terrible diseases British invaders knowingly and deliberately brought with them – the small pox, measles and influenzas that radiated out from Warrane, Sydney Cove, killing family after family, clan after clan, silencing the language, song and laughter. 

So, we have Mourning marked in hearts from 1788, and in First Peoples’ written history since 1938.

“We have survived.”

Immediately across the water from Cook’s first landing, in Kamay’s rich wetlands, Bidjigal man Pemulwuy cast the first spear of a continent-wide guerrilla war.

A just war. A war against foreign invaders. 

Pemulwuy’s son Tedbury carried on resistance first led by his father. By the time Tedbury was killed in 1810, invader massacres and First Peoples’ armed resistance spilled over into every area the invaders entered, only ending in the late 1920s, because then the cost was deemed too high and the prize too poor for the British. 

First Peoples’ weapons were set down. But the war was not over. Invasion continued. First Peoples were and are still murdered.

Yet, despite everything colonialism and then foreign corporate domination did to crush all trace of First Peoples, they were unsuccessful. 

Shocking facts were gradually exposed more widely when, after the 1967 Referendum, the Census gathered them for the first time.

Unity grew from thousands of small and large acts of resistance and mission walk-offs, till the mighty Pilbara strike of the 1950s. Unity was made concrete in the Gurindji struggle which joined worker demands and Aboriginal struggles for land. Then came the Tent Embassy and wider struggles for land rights against foreign mining multinationals. 

All this was expressed in the huge gathering of Peoples and clans in Sydney in 1988.
Survival Day was the biggest gathering of First Peoples from across this continent and its islands in history. 

Led by Elders, organisation was centred in the old mission community at La Perouse, and in Redfern, where 40,000 First Peoples had converged from the 1970s.

The rally’s cry was simple, “We have survived.” 

Despite everything colonialism and its brutal child, imperialism could throw at them, First Peoples stood united. 

In boardrooms, fear was chasms deep.

Divide and conquer, tried and true since 360 BCE, became their weapon, sharp and dangerous, but with smiling faces, money and corporate experts “to help”. 

Invasion and allies

“Australia” must look this word, invasion, in the eye and own its truth.

It means continued state murder of First Peoples, theft and jailing of children, cutting off water supplies, demolishing communities, bulldozing sacred sites, tens of thousands of fracking wells, a deluge of sorry business, funding cut to services, a lack of hope. And more.

It means setting one group against another, especially through so-called native title. 

But, again and again, invasion has meant resistance, and alliances, both between clans and with the wider population. This is the answer to the governments, representing US corporations and the Business Council, which again speak of world war.

The Gadigal saw in horror the flesh torn to bone as convicts were lashed. Gadigal had no gaols, no military, no courts. They had Law immersed in the Lands, the air, the water. They sometimes took in escaped convicts.

In 1804, two years after Pemulwuy was killed, convicts also rebelled against the British at Vinegar Hill. The enemy was the same. British colonialism.
Today, Gunnai, Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung leader Lidia Thorpe and others hail ongoing alliances of the oppressed with First Peoples.

Who would have thought young farmers would lock-on with Gamilaraay against fracking in the Pilliga?

A new generation of First Peoples is rising, taking guidance from Elders, standing, they acknowledge, “on the shoulders of ancestors”. They seek allies. 

But the working class, once a shining hope for First Peoples and their strongest ally, has been systematically divided and disorganised by ruling class laws and compliant “leaders”. 

Here too, young workers are organising with elders, determined, step by step, for the working class to regain its own collective strength.

Before and beyond our days

In songlines of Sovereign Peoples, struggle goes back in time to a time before invasion and forward beyond our days.

They remember and build towards times of greater strength. A time when invasion and mourning are ended with the systems that engender them. 

Two other things are key. Understanding the enemy we face. And unity. 

We stand by their side.

* Young aristocrat Joseph Banks accompanied Cook. He was far more famous after the voyage than Cook, the son of a rural labourer. Banks ordered all means of production and defence, left scattered after shots were fired at defending fighters, to be stolen as “artifacts” to stuff foreign museums.


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