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NAIDOC Week logo and theme (NAIDOC)

A failed referendum leaves many Indigenous Australians feeling unheard, but hope remains. This year’s NAIDOC Week takes on even greater significance as a time to reflect on how to build a more just Australia, writes Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ. Source: Eureka Street.

This year, the special days and observances relating to Indigenous Australians are particularly important. Following the nastiness of much of the referendum campaign and the distress its loss caused to so many Indigenous Australians, non-Indigenous Australians owe it to their First Nations brothers and sisters to reflect on the many reasons offered to explain why the referendum was lost. We must also treasure and respect their history, their culture and their festivals. For that reason, the National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week is especially timely. It commemorates an initiative taken in hard times, an act of defiance and an invitation to be heard. The week is a time to celebrate the fire that they lit, and to work with them to keep it burning.

NAIDOC Week was built on pride: the pride that led Indigenous people, who recognised that they were neither respected nor heard, to work for change. They saw how inappropriate it was to celebrate Australia Day on the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet. That date marked the beginning of their dispossession. They began to organise in order to find recognition and acceptance by other Australians of their right to participate fully in society, but faced opposition at every corner. They drew up a petition sent to King George V to ask for Aboriginal electorates, but the government saw it as outside its constitutional powers to provide them. In 1938, the 150th anniversary of the landing, January 26 was made a national holiday. In response to this affront, the same year a Congress of Indigenous people met in Sydney. Its members marched on Australia Day but called it Mourning Day.

Australia Day is still celebrated on the anniversary of the beginning of Indigenous expropriation, but out of the struggle NAIDOC Week was born and continues. Its date was changed to expand the occasion beyond protest to include the celebration of the Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander heritage. This generous decision to light a candle rather than curse the darkness provides an opportunity for all Australians to join in celebrating their culture, aspirations and hopes. And also to listen to their voice and support those who fight for their rights.


NAIDOC Week is about shared pride (By Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ, Eureka Street)