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A day to endure, not to celebrate

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Scott Saddler and Taleah Greene have vastly different backgrounds and much to celebrate on any normal day.

Scott is Executive Branch Manager for the National Arboretum Canberra and Stromlo Forest Park, is an Indigenous cultural advisor within the ACT Government, and was last year made a Member of the Order of Australia for 25 years of work as an Aboriginal mentor.

Taleah is a 16-year-old Year 12 student who was awarded an Indigenous Scholarship to Canberra Grammar School and who was recently offered a place in the Indigenous Youth Leadership Program run by the Smith Family.

Yet as a proud Wiradjuri man and woman, Scott and Taleah approach January 26 with a deep sense of unease and sorrow.

“The date January 26 shouldn’t be a day to celebrate,” says Taleah.

“To Indigenous people of Australia, the date represents the day when the ‘White’ people took over their lands and was the start of many things which occurred after this date, such as destruction and impact towards Indigenous people’s culture, genocide, Stolen Generations and Assimilation just to name a few. This is why we Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders identify this day as the ‘Day of Mourning’ or ‘Invasion or Survival Day’ as all of the meanings of these words identifies to what really happened.”

Taleah Greene flanked by her brothers Jett (left) and Kyal (right).

For Scott, “this day is conflicting for First Nation people. It is a reminder of the atrocities brought against us.  Let’s move the date so we can all rejoice in being Australian, no matter what nationality or culture we come from.”

When Scott was growing up, he saw both sides to “Australia Day” as his Scottish mum recognised Australia Day as a day of celebration “for all Australians” while his Aboriginal father saw the impact of white settlement on a 60,000 year continuing culture.

“As a young adult I noticed the day wasn’t all fun. I started to notice my dad’s reactions to the day.”

“He would become angry and I realised he was enjoying the company of his family, but not enjoying the celebration at all. He would voice his disgust at political agendas regarding the celebration of what he knew as ‘Invasion Day’.”

“This split reactions to Australia Day were well voiced in our home. Dad’s key emotion was of anger for the disrespect shown to his people and mum’s reaction was more of ‘Don’t get angry, do something’ attitude.”

Scott’s mum’s attitude incited something within him from an early age.

“I believed it was not productive to be angry, but more beneficial to undertake a mantra of ‘I will do everything I can to make others aware and bring about change’. I have set out to do this over the past 40 years.”

Scott Saddler, AM

During that time, Scott has implemented more than a dozen organisational Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) to help general audiences become more aware of the massive Indigenous Australian gaps, as well as setting expectations within workplaces for enabling Indigenous Australians. His AM recognised his work in developing rapport and influence within the corporate world while supporting Indigenous individuals and community groups.

Taleah comes from a family in which some members hid their Aboriginality. It meant she was 10 when she became fully aware of her Wiradjuri heritage.

Now she is doing as much as she can to educate herself on her culture while encouraging all Australians to do the same.

“I was only informed of my Aboriginal heritage in Year 5 and from there I had to form my own perspective of my culture and the events which occurred which as a young person was hard when you only get taught one perspective of events which is the ‘White’ perspective. So, I just want to say that all people can teach themselves the truth about the events which occurred and get an understanding on why we call it the ‘Day of Mourning’ or ‘Invasion or Survival Day’.”

Taleah wants people today to understand that “just that there are two sides of all stories some people need to teach themselves or become more informed of both perspectives”.

“We see today some schools from a young age have started to teach kids more about the Indigenous culture of Australia, which is great, and if we can continue to add more information about Indigenous culture at a young age and all the way through high school it will help kids become more understanding.”

Neither Taleah nor Scott want to see January 26 earmarked for “Australia Day” because they do not feel any sense of celebration.

Says Scott: “The day mostly disappoints me. I don’t like to be angry, but I am disappointed that we are still recognising a day that celebrates the taking of land which was already occupied by Aboriginals.”

“I believe we should celebrate being Australian, however, we need to come together as a nation of varied cultures that mutually respects each other. No culture is superior to another. But more critically, every Australian needs to acknowledge First Nation people and understand that Australia was not ‘found’. This land and culture have been around for more than 60,000 years.”

Taleah experiences “many mixed emotions and thoughts around this day”.

“I think about what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders went through and are still going through. These emotions are mainly sad and sorrowful, but I also think how strong and brave Indigenous people have been.”

Feature image: The Aboriginal Flag flies over Canberra. Image courtesy of the ACT Government.

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