Australia Day Celebrations

from an early morning Aboriginal ceremony in Sydney

Australia Day Celebrations

Australia Day, celebrated on the 26th January has a different meaning to different people. For those of British decent, it celebrates the day that Captain Arthur Phillip claimed the great southern land for  his King, George III in 1788. For many other Australians who have immigrated from over 200 other nations, the day represents recognition of their new start and hope for a brighter future. For the indigenous people, Australia Day has been known by different names; Mourning Day, Survival Day and Invasion Day are more common titles.

In 1788 when white settlers arrived, they declared New South Wales (The name given to the land mass as it had been explored to date) terra nullius, meaning it was empty of people and no-one had former claim to the continent. They did not recognize the indigenous Gadigal People, the original custodians of the land. They were more intent in transforming Aboriginal customs and beliefs, educating the indigenous in western ways, housing them in western buildings, hence depriving them of their nomadic lifestyle and converting them to Christianity. It is a great testament to the Aboriginal People that their traditions have survived at all.

Today there is a greater respect for the Indigenous population with many of their rituals being integrated into established celebrations. One of these traditions is Woggan-Ma-Gule. This means “Meeting of the Water” and is an early morning ceremony performed in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney on Australia Day. The area is cleansed by smudging, spirits and ancestors are acknowledged and Dreamtime stories are told through dance and music. It includes performers not only from New South Wales but as far north as the Torres Strait Islands and Thursday Island. Everyone is welcome and Australia is celebrated as a cohesive nation of people, respectful of one another.

 

Photo and Text by Rebecca Ashton