Still from 1977 Australian film Dot and the Kangaroo
In my box of childhood memorabilia is a 1988 “Bicentennial Memento for School Students”. I was nine years’ old when the government issued this heritage medallion to Australian students. My family and I were visiting my father’s family in Kuwait during the Bicentennial celebrations. We watched the news of the massive Sydney protest march held on Australia Day. It didn’t make sense to me. I was too young then to realise I had a reference point to understand dispossession and land theft. Indeed, we were in Kuwait because my Palestinian family was denied the right to live on their land in Israeli-occupied Palestine.
If you had asked me then what I learned at school about Australia’s ‘founding’ history, I would have been able to tell you about life on the first fleet, the hardships convicts endured, Captain Cook’s voyages and Arthur Phillip’s arrival. Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations’ people was absent from the triumphant and celebratory narrative I was taught at school. The single film I recall watching first at school and then at home, borrowed from our local corner milk bar run by a Palestinian family, was Dot and the Kangaroo. The irony of this sits with me like concrete in my stomach. I am of Palestinian descent and I grew up hearing stories about dispossession, injustice, land rights. Yet my family and I watched Dot and the Kangaroo as just another cartoon. I even remember being terrified of the scene in which Dot and her kangaroo friend spy on a supposed Aboriginal tribal hunting ceremony.
I was an ’80s child, socialised in a non-reflexive, self-idealised narrative of Australia as a trying-to-be-successful multicultural nation which had only recently abandoned (at least legally, anyway) its racist White Australia policy. Growing up I understood that my father had a home in Palestine, which he was not allowed to return to, and that I had family in Kuwait and Jordan, who were denied the right to live in their homeland, Palestine. I attended family weekend events hosted by a local Palestinian group where I caught snatches of conversation about an intifada, about somebody called Yasser Arafat. There was little understanding then of how the dispossessed were on the land of another dispossessed people. My family migrated to Australia in 1971, only a few years after Aboriginal people were counted in the national census for the first time. I grew up at a time in which the myth of terra nullius was upheld and legal challenges to the principle were unsuccessful.
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My own political consciousness and activism, especially around Palestine, emerged in my late teenage years. I started to understand that settler colonialism can only be challenged by recognising shared racial logics, and building movements based on solidarity. As a law student learning about Mabo, I viscerally felt the immoral and wicked mythology of terra nullius. Didn’t Zionists similarly justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestine based on the claim of “a land without a people for a people without a land”?
Today, I want my children to understand whose land they are on. I want this history to become part of their taken-for-granted political and historical vernacular. I want them to understand that they cannot mourn the Palestinian Nakba (and continuing Nakbas) while ignoring Indigenous Australia’s January 26 founding (and ongoing) catastrophe. It is little wonder that our government is so quick to emphasise Australia’s shared values with Israel. We do indeed share a settler colonial identity. For this reason, I want my children to appreciate that Palestine is inside Indigenous Australia, and Indigenous Australia is inside Palestine. What we are both fighting for is nothing less than the right to self-determination, justice, freedom and equality.
I know first-hand that settler colonies, founded on blood and illegitimacy, relentlessly pursue retrospective legitimacy only by seeking to erase the pain, history and identity of the dispossessed. To actively celebrate and rejoice in that first violation is a power play, a reminder that domination and oppression are not past “anniversaries”, but ongoing punishments. What are we being asked to celebrate? Insisting that we celebrate invasion is an emphatic message that Australia is not ashamed of its original sin. Not only is it not ashamed, it proudly clings to its identity as a settler-colony, proof that we are a nation utterly bereft of an identity based on equality, morality and compassion.
And so when Indigenous Australians protest the celebration of their own first (of many and ongoing) Nakbas – Invasion Day – I offer my solidarity. As an Australian and as a Palestinian, I will continue to do what is within my power to offer myself as an ally standing beside and behind Indigenous Australians, privileging their decisions and choices, taking my cue from their agendas and wishes, educating my children and networks, and unequivocally refusing to participate in a celebration of the trauma of the owners of the land on which we are privileged to live.