Jack Latimore doesn’t really do Invasion Day. The former editor at Indigenous X and NITV, now the Aboriginal Affairs Journalist at The Age, has long been one of the most outspoken Indigenous voices on the significance and impact of January 26th, featured everywhere from GQ to ABC News, SBS, and The Guardian.
These days though, he’s more than happy to sit back and let the younger ones, “who still got the energy,” take the reins and rally against colonial oppression on this most significant of days.
Unfortunately, that’s not always an option when you’re a First Nations person living in Australia. In 2018 he flew out to Tasmania with his wife and son, driving up to a remote part of the northeast of the island to get some peace and quiet on January 26. While it felt about as far away as you could get from the crowds, his encounter with a 4WD drive full of drunk, flag-waving teenagers reminded him just how pervasive bigotry is in this country.
So, like Scarface, we pulled him back into the fray to discuss where we stand with this national conversation and just what we’re going to do with our national holiday.
Whether we like it or not, the annual change-the-date argument is happening once again. While it’s a great way for the media to generate some aggressive headlines and watch the clicks roll in on their latest hot take, it’s an argument that Latimore says is “intensely fatiguing” for many Indigenous people, particularly those who speak up.
“The percentage of Aboriginal people that attend the protests and Invasion Day rallies in metro areas isn’t as great as the number of people not doing that but who still stand or consider themselves in solidarity with those demonstrations, with those politics. They just deal with that day in different ways,” Latimore told The Latch.
It’s hard to gauge just how much of a growing issue the urge to withdraw from public life during this period is for Indigenous people. There have been protests, led by Indigenous people, on this date since 1938, however Australia Day as an official public holiday wasn’t recognised until 1994. Latimore speaks to the manufactured nature of the date, predominantly whipped up with the nationalist rhetoric of the Howard and Abbott years, suggesting that, as the fervour increases, so too does Aboriginal reticence.
“85 to 90% of people I talk to, when we talk about January 26, they’re talking about how can we get away to a safe spot, where there’s no white people, and we can just have a quiet day where we don’t have to listen to all the bulls**t that goes on.
“Then you have the younger ones and the more militant ones. They’re the ones that turn up at the rallies where it’s safety-in-numbers and do a little bit of pushing back.
“I agree with all of it. My philosophy or my theory about how to go about being Aboriginal in this country is that we need people sitting at all points around the fire.”
Not all Indigenous people have an issue with the term or the concept of Australia Day, as Latimore has written elsewhere, however many simply want to get away from the BBQs and the painful reminders of history.
The Change the Date movement has, of course, been driven by Indigenous activists like Celeste Liddle, Amy McQuire, and Luke Pearson, and, in recent years, appears to have gained increasing traction. Recently polling shows that only around a third of Aussies want the date changed, however, that number has more than doubled in the past 20 years.
While it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking the wheels just spin round on this one, never really managing to free ourselves from the mud, change is happening. The Change the Date sentiment morphed into Abolish the Date, which has now been overtaken in some ways with a ‘Reframe the Date’ narrative. This is a move captured in the Change it Ourselves movement.
Incidentally, this was a position adopted by Indigenous X that, Latimore says, was lifted by NITV in 2022. All nations have national days and Australia just so happens to have picked a rather offensive one. While it seems unlikely that any political party in power would enact the change, people themselves have taken matters into their own hands.
For instance, triple j, the national youth broadcaster, caused quite a stir in 2018 when they shifted their annual Hottest 100 countdown away from January 26. At the same time, protest movements and Indigenous celebrations are becoming far more mainstream across the country, with an estimated 100,000 or so people marching across the country in 2019. Within Australia Day celebrations too, Indigenous creatives and culture are becoming far more foregrounded. It’s a far cry from the forced reenactment of the landing of Captain Cook for the 150th Anniversary.
“It’s just being reassembled organically,” Latimore says.
“As long as people are celebrating on the day and it becomes a little bit more solemn, a little bit more reflective, like Good Friday, then I think that that’s okay.
“That’s where it’s kind of landed this year. Not Abolish the Date, not Change the Date, not ‘become a better nation’… There’s been a few things and the one that I think is resonating with people is ‘not a day to celebrate’.”
Perhaps we don’t need government intervention, something that, given the ongoing and appalling treatment of Indigenous people at the hands of police, along with our shocking Indigenous incarceration figures and all manner of other sins, might be akin to sticking a plaster on an amputation. Australia, taken as the sum total of its inhabitants, appears to be changing the meaning of the date all by itself.
To give one example, Latimore’s work with the Indigenous descendants of those massacred by Angus McMillion in Gippsland in the 1840s revealed that some — not all — would rather see the true history of this man and his actions exposed alongside the memorial that stands to him in Victoria.
“You don’t have to extinguish one to increase the awareness of the other,” Latimore says.
“And maybe it’s no date to celebrate, January 26, but let’s just keep truth-telling on this date so that it does become more reflective and more solemn”.
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