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Brooke Prentis, an Aboriginal person, a descendant of Waka Waka country in Queensland, shares her thoughts on Australia Day and its significance for Aboriginal people.

I don’t know about you but I love a good lamington, I love a good meat pie, and I absolutely love a lamb cutlet on the barbie.  On 26 January many thousands of these will be consumed across this country that is now called Australia.  These foods are part of our history and our present; culture and tradition passed down over generations.  However, on 26 January I will be conflicted.  I am an Aboriginal person, a descendant of Waka Waka country in Queensland.  On 26 January, close to 600,000 people in Australia, representing over 300 people groups will be conflicted. 

You see, we will be conflicted because we want to share our culture with you, the oldest living culture in the world, culture and tradition passed down over generations.  We want to share with you the good things about Australia and embrace all our brothers and sisters who now come from every corner of the globe.  We also want to share our pain with you.  For us, we will be commemorating, not celebrating.  We will be commemorating losses.  Let us remember in 1788 it is estimated there were 1,000,000 Aboriginal people across this land and by the early 1900s that number had dropped to between 30,000 and 90,000 people.  Today, our population level has still not returned to that in 1788.  So we will be commemorating loss of family, loss of language, loss of culture.    

As a Christian we know we are meant to love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).  A neighbour is not just someone who lives overseas, our neighbour is right here in Australia.  This 26 January, will you love your Aboriginal neighbour, your Aboriginal neighbour who was and is a steward on behalf of our Almighty Creator and took care of the land you now call home for over 40,000 years?  My prayer and request is that you stop, pause, and reflect, take a moment to love your neighbour and, at the very least stand up and say a prayer in your church this Sunday, a prayer of love for Aboriginal people, a prayer of acknowledgement for the pain, loss and grief that will be felt on 26 January and a prayer for a better Australia for all Australians.  But I dare to ask for more, I dare to ask you to come and march with us in any number of marches held in every capital city on 26 January.  We will probably be having a barbie too but it will be a time where we think about what 26 January means to us as we commemorate the day as ‘Day of Mourning’, ‘Survival Day’ and ‘Aboriginal Sovereignty Day’ or for some, but not most, ‘Invasion Day’. 

My other prayer is for a change of date (#ChangeTheDate).  If we truly want to celebrate Australia and include all Australians we must #ChangeTheDate.  We cannot continue to celebrate a day that represents the day the Union Jack was raised in 1788 by Captain Arthur Phillip.  Watch the news this year and see the reporters ask the public what Australia Day means to them and see how many of them talk about Captain Cook, then go and check your history. 

We have been campaigning for years for to #ChangeTheDate.  Australian of the Year in 1984, Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue said, “I would however make a strong plea for a change of date. Let us find a day on which we can all feel included, in which we can all participate equally, and can celebrate with pride our common Australian identity.”

Such a simple thing to #ChangeTheDate and costs little to no money.  Let us also remember that celebrating an Australia Day public holiday together as one nation only began in 1994.  In Queensland a few years ago the public holiday for Labour Day was moved and whilst it doesn’t stop me pausing to reflect on the actual Labour Day (the old public holiday) I have accepted it.  If we #ChangeTheDate, we could have a date that allowed all Australians to celebrate, and then if people wanted to continue to celebrate 26 January and celebrate Captain Arthur Phillip raising the Union Jack they can.

This 26 January, I hope wherever you are you’ll pray for Aboriginal people, learn a bit more about the true history of this country, and love us as God called you to, as people created in his image, and show us compassion, not judgement.

Please join me in appealing to #ChangeTheDate. 

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Brooke Prentis is an Aboriginal Christian Leader. Her people are the Waka Waka people in Queensland. Brooke is also a fully qualified Chartered Accountant and is one of one 17 Indigenous Chartered Accountants in all of Australia. Brooke has previously held the position as the Ministry Leader of Indigenous Ministries in the South Queensland Division. Brooke now does this voluntarily under the Ipswich Corps of the Salvation Army due to lack of financial resources. Brooke currently serves on the Salvation Army’s National Indigenous Reference Group. Brooke is a Board Member of TEAR Australia and Chairperson of the Churches Together Indigenous Peoples Partnership, a commission of Queensland Churches Together. Brooke is also the Coordinator of the Grasstree Gathering, a national, non-denominational conference bringing together Indigenous Christian Leaders from across Australia.