Jacinta's Australia Day Speech: ‘Reflect, Respect, Celebrate’
This is the text of a speech delivered by Jacinta Price to the Australia Day Council at the Melbourne Club on January 24, 2022.
In 2016 on Australia Day, I was deeply compelled to voice a story, my story of identity, of being Australian and of my history. Little did I know the breadth of responses that my story would spark. Some found it refreshing and welcomed the open door to have the conversation, others found it confronting and shut the door to the conversation. Either way my contribution to the debate of changing the date has provided a credible unifiable reasoning and point of view. I’ll recap that story in a moment. But first some reflections on all that has happened since.
We have, without a doubt, since 2016 gone through and are still riding out one of the most challenging periods of our history as a collective. The Australia Day theme of Reflect, Respect and Celebrate could not be more appropriate, not just from an Australian history view but also from our recent journey view.
In 2021 the nation was blessed to be informed by a long-time educator and Senior Australian of the Year, Territorian Nauyiu Elder Miriam Rose, when she said ‘we need to slow down, deeply listen and feel it, our spirit, our place and this will give us an open heart’. More timely wisdom could not have been given, as the National Biosecurity threat of COVID-19 had well and truly arrived. During the past year, we have all, together experienced restrictions on travel, learning from home, working from home, vaccinations, check ins and lockdowns. These experiences have reminded us of the spirit of what is to be Australian, to care, to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and our government and community has done what was needed to get the job done.
Reflecting on Miriam’s words again, what has our COVID-19 experience taught us? For me and many others:
- How immensely lucky we are to have such a beautiful country. We have all been exploring our backyard, whether it is the local park, local business, local national parks or even just a walk around the block, and we truly have the best backyard. That we can celebrate, connecting to place.
- We have deeply listened to the ones we care about, home schooling and work has not been easy, nor lockdowns, but this has in actuality resulted in regular video calls, conscious engagement with people, the provision of increased investment into important services such as mental health through telehealth, bringing help when we need it most into our homes, connecting to people.
- We are more aware of the amazing jobs our teachers do, and our health care workers, aged care homes, hospitals, and have been reinvigorated by the Australian way of caring for your neighbour, your loved ones or your mates, respecting people.
- We have again learnt the simplicity of celebrating and how great this feels through small wins like watching sunsets, spending time with loved ones, taking our dogs for walks, and for many reflecting on what is really important for us as individuals in relationships and as a family. So many have carved out new careers, earned degrees and taken the time to look after the elderly where they can, caring for country and people.
- We have learnt what the word ‘innovate’ can do for us in so many ways. It’s about being open, finding a way... I’ve seen videos of people cooking food with an iron in quarantine, people providing a need in crisis that has turned into small business, and what we can put together as a meal with limited food, having an open mind and heart.
For all the positive reflections, there have been negative ones, which shed a light on ourselves, our situations and for government, on our future policy and economic investment priorities. Some of these include:
- Increased rates of domestic violence
- Isolation and access to support
- Small business fighting to survive
- Mental health deterioration
- Fiscal impacts of a National Health Biosecurity outbreak and the responses and reactions to it
Governments have tried to mitigate the impacts from COVID-19 as much as possible. We have vaccines, we have health systems that are equipped and capable and we have an aware community. This is not by any means ignoring the fact that every single one of us has been impacted, especially those that have lost loved ones in terrible isolated situations.
Recipients of Australian of the Year Awards have done and continue to do remarkable things for our nation. But let me take a moment to reflect on the unsung heroes of the heart, our frontline health works, all the public servants behind the scenes who have worked tirelessly to get all the technology, vaccines, public policies and processes in place to protect us and make our experience as less of an impact as possible. To them I say thank you.
Going back to Miriam’s advice, the words — for true application regarding Australia Day and what it means to be Australian — would encourage a genuine Indigenous design for who we are and how we behave, where:
- keyboard warriors would step away from the screens
- the instant gratification generation would become more aware of themselves, others and life as a whole
- the virtue signalling warriors would find true meaning and peace within themselves and for society to build strength, identity, respect and care.
Reflection on Indigenous design as to how we do things such as slow down, deeply listen and use our beautiful country’s rich history to have an open heart, we can unite as a nation. Indigeneity, the core of our identity as a nation has many academics and self – identified leaders spreading closed dialogue, alienating those that don’t agree, those that don’t want to hold on to trauma and that don’t want to be part of the victimhood entitlement mentality. This is becoming old, is not a thriving dialogue but rather a dying one. It is all the reasons why meaningful participation is important to me.
Going back to my story that I shared in 2016:
My Warlpiri grandfather Dinny Japaljarri was a Lore man, held in high regard by the Yapa community and also by the Kardiya community. My grandparents loved their family and loved the fact that they had a link to the modern world in the union created by our two families coming together, black and white. In their minds it was a means of creating understanding in a world of change which would lead to greater survival. Before white men came to my grandparents’ country life was very hard, and in my opinion the level of hardship we spoilt humans today may not be able to fathom. No shoes to wear, no clothes to protect our skin from the harsh elements, no taps with running water, no supermarkets to buy our food, no houses with comfy beds to sleep in, no medicines or strong pain relief. But this way of life was all my grandparents knew for a period until these other human beings came along.
In his teens my grandfather, fled from the last officially sanctioned massacre of Aboriginal people in our history. In his twenties, he was rounded up with other men and walked to Alice Springs in chains for spearing goats. He was then forced to work as a labourer for the army. Despite all this, my grandfather was proud of his grossly underpaid service for the army. Our people were no strangers to warfare before the white man arrived, and my grandfather took life as it came.
Now as an incredibly culturally mixed and diverse nation, we should be thankful that Australia is so peaceful. Forgiveness has always been an important aspect of Australian Indigenous culture. It is understood that holding onto resentments leads to further conflicts, which can very easily result in serious violence. Resentment toward Non-Indigenous Australians for events they had no part in during our country’s earlier history does little to assist the reconciliation process which has been supported by our government for over 20 years.
Eminent historian Henry Reynolds, wrote:
"…while we have come to accept the brutality of the white frontiersman, we cannot avoid making the same judgement about the Aboriginal stockmen, troopers and trackers who were so often at their side. They too were engaged in the destruction of tribes that impeded the pioneer’s path. They too had blood on their hands...”.
In his book, ‘Conspiracy of Silence’, Timothy Bottoms estimates conservatively that 50,000 Aboriginal people died violently on the Queensland frontier and adjacent parts of the NT and South Australia. At least 24,000 were killed by the Native Police.
The Coniston Massacres happened in 1928 when my whitefella grandparents and my Warlpiri grandfather were in their teens. Those who lived it told the stories to me. While the massacre by a police posse was led by white men, it included Aboriginal trackers. One of the most brutal killers, an Arrernte man called Paddy Tracker, raped Warlpiri women before murdering them and murdered children. Should we hold onto festering resentments against the descendants of these Aboriginal murderers — or have we grown up and moved forward?
In 2003, we held a 75-year commemoration of the Coniston Massacre and invited the descendants of the policemen who led the posse to join us. We took that moment to reflect on the tragic event that took place in living memory and shared it with her. The old people told her that they did not blame her for the actions of her ancestor. They found peace in forgiveness in order for us to heal and move forward. Why isn’t that message from the bush being heard more broadly?
Like the rest of the world, our history is complex — and never as black and white as is portrayed by those who cherry pick to push an ideological agenda. Yes, we have to learn more about our country’s history; not to create resentment, but to understand its complexities and what’s been achieved in one of the world’s most successful multicultural, liberal democracies.
We celebrate on January 26 because it marks the beginning of what we now call Australia.
We cannot change this fact.
My great-great grandfather Thomas Evan Price was a 17 year old farmer’s boy when convicted of house breaking and sentenced to transportation for 7 years. In historical records he is described as having a fair complexion with some freckles, sandy brown hair and dark grey to hazel eyes. It could almost be the description of my 18 year old son Declan though he has blue eyes. My great -great grandfather like so many other convicts was dispossessed of his land and as a result forcedly removed from his loving parents. He arrived in NSW on 15 March 1832 aboard the Isabella. He was to serve out his sentence labouring for his master Nicholas Carberry in the Yass district. Thomas 17 years my great-great grandmother Anne Kennedy’s senior, married her in 1851.
Anne had arrived in Sydney aboard the "Lismoyne" on 29 November 1849, as part of the Earl Grey Famine Orphan Scheme. Anne’s parents had starved to death giving any and all food they had to their daughter to ensure her survival. After their death Anne then had to live in an Irish workhouse labouring to survive. The Orphan scheme was designed for two reasons, by helping to resolve Australia’s chronic shortage of female labour, while at the same time reducing the serious overcrowding in Irish workhouses. Not only that but the Irish landlords who financed the workhouse system also hoped to reduce their own financial burden by transferring as many orphan girls as possible out of the workhouse system. The scheme only lasted two years due to opposition from the Australian colonists but not before 4175 orphans, some whose parents had given them up due to their inability to feed them, had been transported here.
My great great grandparents by all means did not have an easy life. They brought 12 children into the world and like my Warlpiri grandparents lost and buried a number of them before their time.
In the current political climate I would not be expected to acknowledge and celebrate my great great grandparents lives because I have a Warlpiri mother. How ignoring or excluding any part of one’s heritage benefits any human in any meaningful way does not make any sense to me.
I feel that no matter how hard life was for my grandparents and my ancestors, the trauma they experienced at times and the pain they felt was intentionally never passed on by them to the next generation. They gave me examples of understanding, patience, acceptance, love and great courage in embracing change. Because embracing change is not an easy feat for many, but I have been lucky enough to witness and live the consequences of what this means. I love this country for what it has given me. We must recognise our history in all of its contexts from the massacres that took place where Europeans killed our people, the guerrilla warfare style responses from those defending their land, to the revenge killings that occurred between warring tribes, to the coming together of peoples from all these different sides.
Let’s recognise it all but then let’s also recognise that the only way forward is together because for many that also call themselves Indigenous and also have European blood in our veins we would not be here if it weren’t for our country’s full history. Ultimately, we are human beings, we all bleed the same and as my grandparents viewed the world our physical differences should not set us apart.
We all belong to this modern world, and we can’t turn back the clock. We will remain stagnant if we do not check ourselves out of the victim mindset and continue pointing the blame. Those riddled with guilt cannot help or grow either because guilt is crippling. So instead of teaching our kids to feel pain and resentment, let’s teach them love, strength, respect and acceptance. Let’s teach them that they are citizens of the world and that in their own country, this country they are free to be who they want to be, they are free to celebrate their identity as someone born of this land who’s dreaming spirit came from this land and exists in them regardless of their lineage. Let’s teach them that when others come to our land because their people and their land is being destroyed that they are welcome and can move forward with us. Let’s teach them true Indigenous design of living, from my grandfather and from Miriam’s wisdom and learn from them their story of survival and hope.
Trauma let’s unpack that for a minute and what that has looked like for this country, to remind us of our combined resilience and survival.
I’ve just shared one Aboriginal perspective. Now picture this. It's 1838 you are a 20-year-old young Scottish woman, exiled beyond the seas, arriving in Tasmania, separated from your children and country. Some transported with you were sent for making fake currency to survive, but in your case you lost your job and as a single mother, you could be a prostitute and not be arrested to pay for your child’s education or you could steal to sell and be arrested. You chose to steal some spoons to sell. Making the treacherous journey to Van Demons Land you think, if I am lucky, I may get to be a governess, but history has taught us that, that life was not so lucky. This was the story of Jean Smith and many like her who survived this experience, many never seeing their children again, were the founders of small businesses in Tasmania, their optimistic stoicism supported the establishment of the economy across the colony, their ancestors live on amongst us, they embraced change as hard as it was, and they survived.
Fast forward to 1933, an assisted Swedish migrant, arrives in Australia, receives his alien certificate, and upon unsuccessful application of patent engine design builds a cart and walks over 800 kms with his wife and children over 3 years from Aboriginal missions to mines and settlements to find a way to provide for his family. This man went on to work on the design and build of many of the dams across NSW. Arriving with nothing, withstanding great racism and seclusion in regional QLD and NSW they went on to provide water that we would have been lost without during our recent drought periods, food and jobs. They too became integral members of our communities all while boosting our nation’s economy and identity. They also have Aboriginal descendants who embrace the history of all their ancestral resilience and open heartedness. This is the story of Aldolf Malmlof.
The Australia Day Council has highlighted more recent stories, one in particular of a war-torn immigrant arriving in Melbourne, from Lebanon, Rania Awad who opened Australia’s first online pharmacy, quoting ‘the first night in Australia was the first night in my life where I can not hear the sounds of bombs and bullets’. Rania is free to marry who she pleases here and raise her children within whatever cultural framework she wishes, as an Australian.
These stories of resilience and sheer determination to survive help us to understand who we are as a nation and add depth to the foundation of Australia Day. It is about taking every opportunity to not just survive but thrive, and each and every one of us here has a story like this in this room today. This is what we are grateful for, and this is what it truly means to reflect, to respect and to celebrate.
Like my grandfather’s story, my great great grandparents story, the stories of these migrants’, lives were not easy.
Australia as a nation was built on stories like these. Stories of great suffering. Suffering does not belong to any one group of people. It is part of the human conditions. It spans across all space and time. But from the ashes of suffering, humans have also shown great resilience and have built lives, families and great nations. Like ours.
The Aussie way is about digging in and giving it all you have to thrive. We have seen this evidenced in every Australian over the last year and it makes us proud to call ourselves Australian. It is only through patience, an open heart and through deep listening we can find ways to walk together and unite us.
This is what it means to be Australian.
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