For Aboriginal people, January 26 is Invasion Day, a day of resistance – not celebration. It marks the beginning of the racist oppression we have suffered and continue to face today. The logic of invasion – ‘terra nullius’ – saw the introduction of British capitalism and all its brutal and exploitative practices to these shores. The rich natural resources that helped sustain human life for over 65,000 years were now the object of colonial expansion and profiteering for the British ruling class. The colonisers knew that any recognising any form of Aboriginal sovereignty undermined their project, so extensive measures were taken to undermine and ultimately smash all expressions of Aboriginal sovereignty.
The foundation of Australian capitalism saw the birth of the Australian farming industry. For many decades after, livestock rearing was Australia’s dominant and most profitable industry. This period saw the introduction of racist laws that functioned to control every aspect of Aboriginal life from who they married, where they could travel, where they could work and who they could associate with. In WA and Queensland, hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal people were enslaved on agricultural plantations as profit was siphoned off their (stolen) land. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal people were rounded up en masse and forced to live on government reserves known as missions – in some cases managed by the Catholic church in an effort to stamp out ‘Aboriginality’ and force assimilation.
Still today, racist laws and practices continue to oppress the Aboriginal community. Aboriginal children are now stripped from their families under the guise of ‘child protection’ at higher rates than during the days of the Stolen Generations. Aboriginal people continue to be killed by a racist criminal justice system at shocking rates. In August 2018, an analysis of 10 years of coronial data found that 407 Aboriginal people had died in police or prison custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987-1991). That figure has now increased to at least 425. A recent and highly public case was the murder of David Dungay Jnr at the end of 2015. Only weeks before he was due to be released from Long Bay Jail, David was killed by prison officers in his cell, for the “crime” of eating a biscuit. The coronial inquest into his death was finally held in 2019, with an outcome that has become all-too-familiar to the families of those murdered in custody – no-one was held responsible for his death.
Systematic racism against Aboriginal people continues to exist for the same reason it has always existed – to enable and justify the continued exploitation of Aboriginal land for the profit of Australia’s rich and powerful. Today, mining is Australia’s largest and most profitable industry, making up over 50% of Australia’s total export earnings. Coal, natural gas, and iron ore are the big three, and Australian mining corporations BHP and Rio Tinto are among the largest in the world. Despite the gains of the land rights movement in the 60s and 70s, Aboriginal people have virtually no meaningful or reliable rights over our land. The limited areas where native title does exist are constantly under threat from mining companies. The ineffectiveness of existing native title laws came to the fore when the Adani Corporation bankrupted Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) spokesperson Adrian Burragubba through Australia’s High Court, demanding that he pay up over $600,000 to cover legal fees for the mine. Under the Native Title Act, the Native Title Tribunal can order that mining leases be granted even if an agreement with traditional owners has not been reached. To grant genuine land rights and acknowledge the true history of invasion in this country would endanger the right of billionaires and businesses to exploit Aboriginal land for their own profit.
The celebration of Australia Day hardens Australian nationalism and papers over class divisions under capitalism. Such a celebration pushes the idea that everyone shares a “collective interest”. This could not be further from the truth; we are not all in this together. The people that profit from the extraction of natural resources on stolen Aboriginal land are the same people fuelling the climate crisis – the cause of the wildfires that have levelled entire towns, burnt over 10 million hectares of bushland and killed more than 25 people. As temperatures continue to rise, the Australian capitalist class, backed by Albanese and Morrison, will continue to profit from extractive industries while the planet burns.Every year the turnout to Invasion Day rallies has consistently grown. We need more of it! We need protest and mass action if we want to radically change society. This is what won greater civil rights for African Americans in the 60s in the United States and this is what won marriage equality here in 2017. Get along to the Sydney Invasion Day Rally at 11am in Hyde Park; join thousands of others in taking a stand against the revolting racism and nationalism that taints this date every year. If you’re interested in learning more about how to defeat Aboriginal oppression or want to get involved in anti-capitalist politics, I’ll be speaking at a public meeting on “Black Lives Matter: the struggle to end Aboriginal oppression” on 23 January at Newtown Neighbourhood Centre at 6pm. See you there!