Thinking about Australia Day: An educator’s perspective

For me personally, the Australia Day long weekend brought about many discussions with my nearest and dearest about what Australia Day signifies for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

During that weekend, I, like many Australians, engaged in discussions about whether or not it is appropriate for Australia Day to fall on the date it is currently held: January 26. It is safe to say that this is quite a polarising subject in Australia right now, and there are so many conflicting opinions being shared both in our own social circles and in the wider community.

Social media, in particular, is something I have found hard to stomach around Australia Day. Reading through endless comments with attitudes that don’t exactly promote respect or show empathy towards the hardship and suffering of generations of Indigenous Australians often leave me feeling frustrated and disheartened.

Whilst I believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, after reading and hearing some opinions and attitudes that seem to lack any compassion or understanding towards the oldest living culture on the planet, I have been reflecting on why people may be feeling this way.

A person’s opinion is greatly affected by their own personal context and experiences. We are the culmination of what we have experienced during our life: our upbringing, our education, the people we know, and the places we’ve been. With so many Australians holding very similar opinions, it brings me to wonder what the common denominator is that may be driving these opinions and attitudes.

I personally am a big believer that Australia Day should be held on a date that is respectful and inclusive to all Australians. I wish I could say that I have always held this opinion about Australia Day, but unfortunately that is not exactly the truth.

Although I have grown up with a respect for, and appreciation of the Indigenous People of Australia, when it came to understanding the severity of how brutally Indigenous Australia was colonised by Great Britain, I honestly knew very little.

You see, I too, received the whole “Captain Cook ‘discovered’ Australia” spiel when I was in schooling, which now as an adult I am learning is not only a very watered down piece of history, but also a very inaccurate version of events.

For the majority of my life, I believed the narrative that I had been taught, which to be fair, was probably taught by teachers who too learnt this narrative growing up.

It has been a cycle of inaccuracies, passed down from generation to generation.

And this particular narrative has caused so much damage. It has been damaging to the generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People who have endured tragedy, hardship and suffering.

But it has also meant that generations of non-Indigenous Australians have been kept in the dark about the true history of their own country, and as a result of this may not completely understand the severity of how the British colonisation of Australia truly came about.

That is what I find to be the greatest tragedy about our understanding of Indigenous perspectives: that it didn’t have to be this way.

To me, it seems as though the common denominator here is education. Although the education systems of the past and their teaching of historically inaccurate information may have caused damage to our country’s ongoing journey to reconciliation, the education systems of today are striving to rectify that.

If you look through today’s early childhood curriculum documents, you will see a strong emphasis on embedding Indigenous perspectives into our practices and programs, and promoting reconciliation through modelling empathy and respect. And so there should be; this is the only way forward.

As disheartened and disappointed I feel when I reflect on Australia’s past I must admit, that I am immensely hopeful about Australia’s future. As early childhood educators we have an incredible opportunity. We have the opportunity to instil kindness, understanding, empathy and respect into the hearts and minds of the children that we are working with each day.

I truly believe that education, and early childhood education in particular, has the potential to be the catalyst for change.

One of the great things about the National Quality Framework (NQF), the regulatory framework all early education services operate under, is that it expects us to engage with these issues. Acknowledging Indigenous perspectives is one of the founding principles of the NQF, and the Early Years Learning Framework provides educators with guidance on developing cultural competence and embedding Indigenous ways of thinking and being.

Of course, we must teach children about Indigenous perspectives in ways that are age- and developmentally-appropriate and indeed authentic, but it is never too soon to develop a respect for and appreciation of the First Australians.

I am frequently blown away with how eager the children are to learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and culture, and their positive and respectful reactions to diversity and difference.

Every day I look at the kind, tolerant, empathetic and open-minded young people that we are so privileged to know and teach, and they give me so much hope for reconciliation in Australia’s future.  

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