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  • Writer's pictureSharon Bryce

Australia Day

I spent some time today contemplating what it would have been like if the Japanese had won the Second World War. The Japanese bombed Darwin in 1942. It was preparation for an invasion of our country. They were unsuccessful but what if they had succeeded? What would our lives look like today?

At that time, the Japanese leadership and military believed they were racially superior. So they treated other cultures who stood in the way of their ambitions with cruelty and arrogance. In fact just before WWII the Japanese decided to invade China because they wanted Chinese minerals, metals, food and cheap labour. It was a long and ruthless campaign but their treatment of the city of Nan Jing stands out. There they slaughtered the whole city. Historians estimate that 40 000 to 300 000 men, women and children were killed. Had the Japanese succeeded in invading Australia in WWII they would not have been kind to us. There would probably have been a widespread genocide - an ethnic cleansing. If any of us had survived we would have had our homes and land taken away. They would have forced us into servitude. We would have had to learn their language and send our children to their schools. We probably would not have had equal rights or the right to vote. We would have become impoverished, second class citizens while the Japanese lived very comfortable lives using our labour and resources.

How would we feel? Seriously? Growing up in a new, foreign Australia aware of how much had been taken away from us. Aware that not only would this be our lot in life but that of our children and grandchildren too - perhaps forever.

But what if we fought, argued and won the right to vote. Got some of our land back. Some limited autonomy. The right to speak our own language and teach it to our kids. What if we believed the Japanese had grown and reflected on their brutal past and now considered us as equals and fellow Australians. What if they said they were eager to create peace, apologize and start anew as a unified country?

Would we believe them if each year they set an annual date to celebrate their successful conquest of us?

That’s what we do folks, every Australia Day. Whether you are aware of it or not. Australia Day marks the arrival of the British first fleet at Port Jackson in 1788 and the raising of the British flag at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip - google it.

Is it any wonder that it upsets a large number of Aboriginal people???

All that I imagined above happened to our indigenous people following the arrival of that British fleet - and much more. This is the history we want to commemorate every year? This is how we grow and heal as a nation? At first contact there were estimated to be 250 000 aboriginal people in Australia. When the massacres officially ended in 1920 there were 60 000 - that’s well over half the native population of the country killed in a conflict that spanned 139 years! Today’s Aboriginal people are the descendants of multigenerational trauma. They make up just 3.3% of our population.

It is a shameful indictment of a “civilized country” that we sweep this dark and bloody past under the carpet and teach kids a sanitized version in school. In fact, I very much suspect that most adult, non-indigenous Australians don’t actually know the extent of the atrocities that were committed in order to forge the modern Australia we all enjoy.

Change the day. Change the name. Change the reason for celebration.

Let’s celebrate growth. Let’s celebrate the future. Let’s celebrate unity and diversity. Let’s celebrate an acknowledgement of suffering and a commitment to create a new Australia that sees every citizen and ethnic group as worthy of equal respect and standing. That would be an Australia I could be proud of.

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