In Australia, the date of Jan. 26 goes by many names.
“Australia Day” is what you might hear in media and on Tv. But for many people, Indigenous or otherwise, it also goes by “Invasion Day” or “Survival Day” and it’s often called the “Day of Mourning.”
Marking the beginning of colonialism and the culture loss, genocide and systemic racism that came along with it, the anniversary is a bank holiday marked by increasingly large protests and calls on social media to #ChangeTheDate. Or hell, even simply #CancelTheDate.
The town of Wilcannia found in outback north west New South Wales and belonging to the Barkandji people is made up of around 800 residents with diverse and deep-rooted feelings stirred around this date.
Artist and photographer Justine Muller spoke with Aboriginal residents of the town, on Jan. 26, taking their portraits with just her iPhone 7 Plus and asking them in their own terms: What does Jan. 26 mean to you?
Leroy Johnson, Barkandji human
“Tick tock, tick tock ticking tock, tick tock, it’s here again. The first month, the 26 th day.” “The 26 th of January” lyrics by Leroy Johnson.
“Do I suppose the date should change? It is very significant to us, so the working day should be acknowledged, but in a quite different style, like ANZAC Day for example( where Turkey celebrates defense of their nation and ANZAC mourns the losses ). We need to honour those who have died to defend their country against the foreign invader. Regrettably, the invader now celebrates their victory and we mourn our losses. Different sides of the same coin.
“Australia should celebrate its nationhood, which is Jan. 1, 1901. The other date is merely the establishment of a colony of Great Britain , not the birth of a nation. We( Australia) need to separate ourselves from Mothers( Great Britains) apron strings and grow up and form our own identity, which is definitely not a British Colony, as long as it remains this style, thats what we will be.”
Monica Kerwin Whyman, 47 -year-old Barkandji woman
“1 788 to 2017. Celebrating Australia Day traditions with family and friends drinking beer, having BBQ’s in back yards near rivers and on beaches across this nation is cultural for many non-Aboriginals to do on the Jan. 26 per year but the true traditional of this country we will mourn on this day because we have nothing to celebrate.
“We mourn for the loss of land on this day.
We mourn for the loss of our ancestors on the working day.
We mourn for the loss of our children on the working day.
We mourn for the loss of our identity on this day.
“Yes, Australia we will mourn on this day but we won’t do it in silence. We will march the street. We will protest. We will create our Aboriginal flags and we will make noise. Because we have asked you to change the date and you never listen. You have stolen a lot and dedicated back little to compensate for the wrongs you have done and yes, it has been over 200 years since you invaded our land yet you still celebrate on this day.
“You say you want to reconcile but what does that mean, Australia? You will never understand why we are angry on this day. You will never know the ache because you treat us like we are strangers in our own country and your non-Aboriginal generation will grow to know your Australia Day traditions but what do I dedicate mine?
“So please change the date so we all can celebrate together. For all Aboriginals across this nation, it would mean a lot.”
Reena Staker, 35 -year-old Barkandji girl
“It’s an insult to celebrate on a day that is an emotional hour, especially for our elders. A lot of our history is still not recognised, and the truth is encompassed up. Australians need to be better educated about current realities then they would understand it is not a day of festivity for us.
“The Day should be on any other day, but not the day our land was invaded.”
Uncle Woddy Harris, 66 -year-old Barkandji human
“I am an original Australian person. We are due for change. Stand up and tell enough is enough let’s all come together. No more hating, we are all people. Australia is important to everyone. Life is about trust and selections. Lets choose to move forward together.
“If they want a day of gala for all Australians then it’s not this day.”
Timothy A. Quayle, 47 -year-old Barkandji man
“I believe all Australians should have a great day on behalf of the members of our great country.
“We are all Australians we should all celebrate together black and white. We should come together as one and get along.
“Im not a racist, I love everyone, so if they want to celebrate on that day I dont intellect but I think there should be recognition of what happened, perhaps a minute stillnes as a sign of respect.
Alison Whyman, 44 -year-old Barkandji girl
“Australia Day to me entails Invasion Day. For us Aboriginal people it is nothing to celebrate. Even if you change the working day Im still not sure how Id feel about it. It is hurtful to us. It’s a hurting day. We are still suffering.”
Brendon Adams, 40+ year-old Ku Ku Yalanji man
“The day of celebration for non-Indigenous, is about the landing in our country. They did steal our land even if politically the objective is ignorant to it. Acknowledging it yet still celebrating is ignorance and hurtful.
“For us to move forward together, the truth needs to be recognised.
Our people succumbed for home countries, and their blood has soaked this land.
“We have a minute silence for the Anzacs. Why cant we have a minute silence for our people who also fought for their country? I think if we did that people would start to understand and think about the past and we could take a step towards breaking down that ignorance.
“We Aboriginal people used to call Australia Day, Mourning Day but we now call it Survival Day. This altered in position is a fine example of the strength of our people to want to move forward. In the past protests led to fury and led to conflict but now we celebrate our survival our strength, our culture.
“A lot needs to happen before Australia can become a united country. We need to be recognised. We require a treaty, we need to be treated as equals.
Ron Kinsela, 54 -year-old Wiradjuri man
“A lot of bad things happened to our people cause of that day and they celebrate it. I dont know why they celebrate. People were killed, massacred. There are still properties around here with massacre sights and they continue to not recognised.
“Like when our soldiers went over oceans and fought wars for this country they came home and still had no rights. We succumbed on this soil defending our country but we dont do anything to remember that like they do for white soldiers.
Shaylin Whyman, 20 -year-old Barkandji female
“Celebrating Australia Day isn’t a crime and I think it’s great to celebrate what a wonderful country we live in but celebrating on the Jan 26. is the worst thing the governmental forces could have done for Aboriginal people.
“Jan. 26 is a day to be remembered forever because it’s the day our people were murdered, our children taken, a religion we knew nothing about was forced on us, our women were raped, and we were forced to speak a language that isn’t ours. I believe the date should be changed so that everyone can celebrate together. Jan 26. is known to all Aboriginal people as Invasion day, which for us is not a day to be celebrated.”
Murray Butcher, 40+ year-old Barkandji human
“Jan. 26 I think is the wrong date for Australia Day. It represents the date the First Fleet falsely claimed the land belonged to nobody. The land belonged to us, we belonged to the land and we appeared after the land. It’s still our land we never gave it up.
“1 788 was the start of the demolition of Indigenous cultures of Australia, the decimation of our world. That date needs to be changed to a day we can all celebrate regardless of were we come from. I proposed to Federation Day. Jan 1.1901, when all colonies agreed to become one nation of Australia.
“Jan. 26 only represents a small portion of this nations history: The European part and we are much more than that. We are a nation of nations and people of all countries of the world have come to call our Aboriginal lands their land.”