Invasion Day and Captain Cook

In a desperate attempt to deflect attention on their economic incompetence, their war on the poor, the manipulation of the ABC, and the Banking Royal Commission, the current Federal government hopes that it can appeal to nationalism, but condemning Byron City Council for moving Australia Day celebrations one day earlier. The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, criticised the council for engaging in "indulgent self-loathing", claiming that "Our modern Aus nation began on January 26, 1788. That’s the day to reflect on what we’ve accomplished, become, still to achieve. We can do this sensitively, respectfully, proudly, together."

Most commentators were less than happy with this. My own comment parodied the response; "Let's respectfully, sensitively, and proudly whitewash 250 years of dispossession, rape, and murder. We've achieved so much". Others argued that the account was a parody. Noongar author Claire Coleman reminded the Prime Minister that the day will not be forgotten as invasion day. Others pointed out that even on a technical level the Prime Minister was completely mistaken; "Technically this date is 'Foundation Day; of the Penal Colony of NSW. The Commonwealth of Australia - Australia as ‘Nation’ commenced on 1 January 1901. Before that it was a collection of 'colonies'". Sydney-sider parochialism now unites with white invader imperialism.

Matters took a step to the bizarre when Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie told Sky News, referring to the day, "The reality is that is when the course of our nation changed forever. When Captain Cook stepped ashore, "And from then on, we've built an incredibly successful society, best multicultural society in the world." Marque DC responded in parody: "Capt Cook was a great Australian! He was the guy who rode Phar Lap in a cavalry charge across the open plains of Gallipoli against the Japanese. He got a VC for that action. I saw it on the #NationalPartyHistoryChannel"

In reality, the date marks the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, which arrived with a gunboat and hundreds of soldiers. On this day, Phillip raised the Union Jack and proclaimed British Sovereignty over the eastern half of what would become Australia.

By the end of the year, in addition to dispossession of land, the British arrivals are capturing aboriginal people. By the end of the following year a war has broken out with punitive expeditions sent out by Philip and indigenous resistance carried out by Pemulwuy which lasts for several years (with the British seeking a policy of extermination against the Bediagal people collectively), whilst further dispossession and displacements take place in contemporary Parramatta, Bankstown, and the Hawkesbury, and Georges River; the people there also resisted. There is even strong evidence that the invaders used smallpox as biological warfare.

In contrast, Captain James Cook died had nine years before January 26th, 1788. Whilst treated as some sort of saint by various members of the Australian public, it must be remembered that the very moment that his crew made a landing on Botany Bay they shot a local Gweagal man in the leg. After that, they were understandably cautious, and Cook recorded in his log (April 29, 1770) "all they [indigenous Australians] seem'd to want was us to be gone".

Not that his behaviour improved on reaching Hawaii. Initially, he and his crew were welcomed. However, he was particularly impressed by some wood that the Hawaiians used to border their sacred burial ground - used for high ranking individuals and depictions of their gods. Offering two iron hatchets for the wood, he was frustrated when the chiefs said that they weren't interested in trading. So he gave orders to break down the fence and steal it.

Understandably the Hawaiians were not impressed with this equivalent of the dismantling of Westminster Abbey, the Hawaiians retaliated by taking one of the ship's longboats. Cook then decided that merely dismantling and stealing their Westminster Abbey wasn't enough - he decided to kidnap an aliʻi (noble). As the Hawaiians approached Cook and his party demanding the return of their chief, Cook responded by striking their High Chief, Kanaʻina, with his sword, as the crew raised guns and tried to continue with the kidnapping. Understandably this turn of events did not turn out well. The Hawaiians responded with numbers and Cook was killed - due his thievery, his kidnapping, and his initiation of violence.

As for Invasion Day, the Prime Minister has argued that there should be a separate holiday to celebrate indigenous culture. As if such an apartheid holiday would make any difference to the divisiveness, offensiveness, and hurt of celebrating the declaration of an invasion. Even less sophisticated are the arguments made in favour of the current Australia Day holiday. Some claim, erroneously, that it has always been part of Australian culture - which is completely incorrect - at various times it has been celebrated on July 26, July 27, and July 30. Others make the remarkable claim that somehow it is an opposition to celebrations in general. They have missed the point that the campaign to 'Change The Date', not 'End Parties'.

It becomes more confusing for supporters of the current day when asked why the insistence on this particular day, rather than one which would be more unifying? Quite clearly the current Australia Day is divisive and, to many indigenous Australians in particular, downright offensive. If insistence is made to continue with this day, the acceptance will never be achieved without a true reconciliation - which would mean recognition and ending the genocide of the indigenous people of the land, recognition of aboriginal sovereignty, and the establishment of a treaty. Australia is the only Commonwealth nation that doesn’t have a treaty with its indigenous people. The first actual trade of land for goods wasn't until Batman's Treaty of June 1835, which was declared void two months later with terra nullius imposed.

Ultimately one is left with the realisation that the hard advocates of "celebrating" Australia Day on January 26 is on the basis of either complete indifference to the grave moral wrong that was committed on that day towards the indigenous inhabitants of the land or actual outright support of that invasion. Those are the only possible grounded reasons that one can possibly have for accepting January 26 as "Australia Day" - which brings the question of which of the reasons the Prime Minister would use.

Today, there is clear evidence of systemic racism in Australia - in employment and in the legal system. Despite spiraling issues in health and housing, the Northern Territory has cut billions from the indigenous funding. Yet when the local councils like the City of Yarra, the City of Darebin, and the City of Byron Bay make even a symbolic recognition that perhaps "celebrating" invasion day might not be in the best interests of reconciliation, how does the Federal government - with all their advocates for "free speech" - react? By stripping them of their right to hold citizen ceremonies. 'Freedom' means you have the right to agree with this government.

Commenting on this Story will be automatically closed on November 30, 2018.


Just a few days after this was written New Zealand removes Captain Cook statue.