Why you should boycott Australia Day



The National Australia Day Council describes Australia Day as “a day to reflect on what we have achieved and what we can be proud of in our great nation,” and a “day for us to re-commit to making Australia an even better place for the generations to come”.

But for many January 26 is no date to celebrate, and to fully understand why, we must recognise the price of this “great nation’s” achievements over the past 229 years.

The 26th of January 2017 will mark 229 years since the British invaded what is now known as Australia. It was on this date in 1788 that Captain Arthur Phillip raised the Union Jack for the first time in Sydney Cove, symbolising British occupation.

When Australia was invaded, British colonisers declared this continent terra nullius: “nobody’s land”; a law which describes territory that has never been subject to the sovereignty of any state. Terra Nullius was granted despite the land already being occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations for over 60, 000 years.

Despite acts of resistance, Australia was brutally colonised as British settlers stole Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land and enacted massacres through state policy.

The Frontier Wars spanned the first 140 years of colonisation. When the invasion commenced, there were approximately 750,000 people living in 350 distinct nations on the Australian landmass. By 1900, only 93,200 Indigenous people survived. At least twenty thousand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were killed or murdered in untold battles and massacres from Hobart to the Kimberley. Approximately two and half thousand invaders were killed as Aboriginal people resisted extermination.

Throughout the twentieth century, the Australian state continued to dehumanise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and commit acts of genocide under new laws. A policy called ‘Smooth the Dying Pillow’ allowed indiscriminate killings well into the 1930’s under the assumption that what was left of the Aboriginal population would die out. [1]

In 1901 the Australian state introduced ‘the White Australia policy’, making Anglocentric whiteness the ultimate marker of citizenship. This meant Indigenous Australians could not vote, own property, receive wages for work, travel, or receive legal representation [2]. Prior to the 1967 Referendum, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were viewed as ‘sub-human’ and weren’t counted as citizens for the census, but rather were categorised as part of the national flora and fauna.

Until 1970 Aboriginal workers were for all intents and purposes enslaved. They sold their labour power to white men but were denied access to their wages which were often stolen by the state [3].

To those who think colonisation and structural racism are a thing of the past, or that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to ‘get over it’, take a look at recent statistics:

Despite a formal apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008, the Australian state continues to dehumanise Aboriginal peoples through institutionalised racism and state violence. 60 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are taken from their families every month, making the number of removals higher now than during the Stolen Generations period. 48% of juveniles in detention are Aboriginal, and like Dylan Voller, many experience physical abuse and trauma.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are massively over represented in Australia’s criminal justice system. Though only representing 3% of the total population, more than 28% of Australia’s prison population are Aboriginal. In the Northern Territory, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners make up 86% of the prison population.

Between 2000 and 2007 there were 701 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in police custody. The recent release of CCTV footage at the time of Ms Dhu’s death highlight the disregard for her welfare and right to medical treatment.

This year the continued forced closures of Aboriginal communities is creating higher rates of homelessness and poverty for those affected. The removals also sever an intrinsic connection to country known to be important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing.

Day of Mourning, Invasion Day, Survival Day

In 1938, on the 150th Australia Day celebrations, the first ‘Day of Mourning Protest’ was held. Activists marched silently through the streets and held a conference for equal rights and citizenship for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. ‘Australia Day’ has since been rejected and renamed by many as either ‘Invasion Day’ which mourns the invasion of British colonisers, or ‘Survival Day’ which recognises the continued survival of First Nations people.

How does this position you?

If you are a non-Indigenous person living in Australia, regardless of your family history or the colour of your skin, you directly benefit from the dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Any privileges you enjoy living in this country come at the expense of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“To different degrees every colonizer is privileged, at least comparatively so, ultimately to the detriment of the colonized…this can be read by the relation of each group’s concrete economic and psychological position within the colonial society.” [4]

Celebrating Australia Day, a day which rejoices in the European invasion, is only appealing to those who do not know, or those who do not care, about Australia’s black history. It is absurd and insensitive to hold a day of patriotic celebration on a day that marks the beginning of the genocide and dispossession of the owners of this land.

Having a choice to celebrate Australia Day is a marker of settler privilege. As a non-Indigenous person living on stolen land, I acknowledge my privilege and choose to reject this day. I am not proud and I will not celebrate.

The National Australia Day Council recognises this day as a day to recommit to making Australia better for generations to come. Celebrating this day however, no matter the pretense, eradicates history and identity.

The recent lamb advert shows a fictitious Australia that is founded on both multiculturalism and nationalism, but pointedly leaves out the brutal massacres of Indigenous peoples and the dispossession of land and culture. Many Australians see this ad as a step towards inclusivity, but it is just another platform for the whitewashing of Australian history.

Celebrating more ‘inclusively’ on the day by not calling your event an ‘Australia Day Party’ or making a quick acknowledgement of country is not enough. Though these gestures recognise the extreme inappropriateness of holding a celebration on this day, they do little to raise the issues of continued oppression of Indigenous Australians or call for treaty.

I ask you to join me in completely boycotting this day. Instead, show solidarity and stand alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and demand justice.

What can you do?

As a non-Indigenous ally to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, I propose the following strategies to show your solidarity:

Educate yourself and other non-Indigenous people. Learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, the colonisation of Australia, the Frontier Wars, and the ongoing struggle for self-determination.

Explain to your friends and family why you won’t be celebrating Australia Day this year and ask them to join you. Lessen the burden on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to do this educating.

When possible, listen to and respect the stories and opinions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. If you have questions, ask them, but recognise that you are not entitled to this education. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may not want to do this labour. It is not their responsibility to educate you.

Don’t interrupt or whitesplain racism. If you get called out for problematic behaviour or language don’t get defensive, listen. Acknowledge what happened and apologise, if needed, for any harm caused. Move forward and use this experience to help others learn too.

Attend a Survival or Invasion Day event in solidarity. Respect that the terms of the event are at the discretion of the organisers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in attendance.



Invasion Day Callout – 9am @ Aboriginal Embassy




Invasion Day march – 11.00am @ Parliament Steps


Share The Spirit Festival 2017 – 11am @ Treasury Gardens


Belgrave Survival Day “Learn Local Culture – 12pm Borthwick Park



New South Wales

Invasion Day Protest: Change the Date!!! – 9.30am @ Ballina


Yabun – 10am @ Victoria Park


Invasion Day rally – 11am @ The Block, Redfern




Survival Day Walk – 7.30am @ Mabo Monument Victoria Bridge


Invasion Day March – 10am @ Parliament House


Survival Day Townsville 2017 – 11am @ Perfume Gardens



South Australia

Survival Day 2017 – 11am @ Semaphore Foreshore


Invasion Day Resistance & Mourning Shave (Kaurna Country) – 6pm @ Elder Park



Western Australia

Invasion Day Rally – 1pm @ Perth



We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we organise on, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nations, and pay our respects to elders both past and present, and also extend that respect to any Aboriginal people reading this article. We also acknowledge that this land was stolen and that sovereignty was never ceded.



[1] Foley, G. (1999). Whiteness and Blackness in the struggle for self-determination

[2] Moreton-Robinson, A. (2004). Whiteness, epistemology & Indigenous representation. In Morton-Robinson, A. (Ed.). Whitening Race: Essays in social and cultural criticism.

[3] Korf, J. (2016). Stolen Wages. <www.CreativeSpirits.info>

[4] (Memmi, A. (1965). The colonizer and the colonized. p77, 79

Blood Money for Art – Transfield and the Sydney Biennale

The Guardian has broken the news that the Biennale of Sydney (BOS) has severed ties with detention centre operator Transfield Services. Transfield Holdings chairman Luca Belgiorno-Nettis has resigned from his role as chair of the BOS. Belgiorno-Nettis has acknowledged the success of the artists led boycott of the Biennale in forcing him out.

The following article on the links between Transfield and the Sydney art world was written for issue 1 of The Platform. It is interesting to note that whilst Transfield and the BOS have now formally severed ties, Transfield remains a principle sponsor of the Sydney Chamber Orchestra and Luca Belgiorno-Nettis remains its chair.

Transfield Services has hit pay dirt. Indefinite detention is big business and the contracts are flowing in. Transfield has already made a whopping $215 million in just twelve months, building the fences, erecting the tents, and employing the guards that keep hundreds of vulnerable refugees detained in the tropical heat of Nauru’s former phosphate mine. Meanwhile, Transfield’s Nauran employees are paid a pitiful $4 an hour.

And the contracts keep coming. For the first time one company will be responsible for providing the guards who do the beatings, and the social workers who mop up afterwards. The Salvation Army has lost its contract to run welfare services on Nauru, and Transfield is set to replace them. This ‘proud’ Sydney company is now positioned to run every aspect of an immigration detention service – everything from the substandard accommodation to the substandard food and the incompetent unmotivated “welfare” staff can all be yours, direct from Transfield Services!

But it’s all for a good cause, the torture of refugees funds art and culture to enrich the lives of Sydney’s richest! Transfield Services is enmeshed in the Sydney arts scene almost as heavily as it’s enmeshed in destroying the lives of people fleeing persecution.

Since its establishment in 1973 the Biennale of Sydney has become the most prestigious visual arts event on the Australian calendar. It’s internationally prominent amongst the two hundred such events held annually, and is perhaps comparable in scope and influence to the oldest arts biennale, that in Venice. And it’s brought to you by Transfield.

Transfield founder Franco Belgiorno-Nettis is also Biennale of Sydney founder Franco Belgiorno-Nettis. For 41 years the Biennale of Sydney has been the centrepiece of Transfield’s arts empire. Transfield Holdings operates an “art rental program” leasing out works from its expensive private collection. The Transfield Foundation (a joint venture of Transfield Services and Transfield Holdings!) pours money into the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and coincidentally, the Chairman of the Australia Chamber Orchestra is one Guido Belgiorno-Nettis, Executive Director of Transfield Holdings.

Art is a big deal for this company. It’s not just culture wash (although its value as culture-wash is extensive). Art, for Transfield, is about status, prestige and legitimacy. It is no coincidence that the venues for Biennale events include the private residences of Transfield directors and executives.

It is for these reasons that a Sydney Arts educator, Matthew Kiem, has published a call for a boycott of the Biennale of Sydney. If art means as much to Transfield as its entanglements suggest, an arts boycott of this company could at least inconvenience those involved in the corporate facilitation of human misery. At the very least, a public boycott of the Biennale of Sydney could undermine some of the culture-wash that Transfield deploys to pretty up its image whilst it works on the destruction of human lives.

It is interesting to note just how defensive the Biennale of Sydney have been to criticism of Transfield Services. On their official twitter account the Biennale organisers wrote:

“RE: comments on BOS sponsors: BOS brings attn 2 the ideas & issues of our times – objectors only deny the legitimate voice of BOS artists”

The irony could not be more obvious if it were deliberately constructed.