Balladhu Wiradjuri gibir. Dyiramadalinya badhu Wiradjuri.
This is who I am. Before anything else, I am a Wiradjuri man. I am a proud Wiradjuri man.
This is my language, which comes from my father, my babin. Because of him I know where I stand in this world.
My country is Wiradjuri ngurrambang. I am Garru — magpie — the animal spirit of my father and, before him, his grandfather, Budyaan. These things are older than Australia; these words, this country, this spirit.
January 26 is just a date. But our place is beyond time.
When I die, I will go back to my land to rest with my ancestors and become part of something eternal. No flag, anthem or constitution can give this to me or take it from me. I know there is a place on this earth that is mine. This is my inheritance, and all I need leave to my children. This is what is passed down from my father.
I have been angry for my father
He’s not well right now, my dad. He is in hospital, fighting to get better.
That’s what he does: fight. He is a warrior. He has fought to keep our language alive and strong.
With his dear friend and linguist, John Rudder, dad wrote the Wiradjuri dictionary — the first time our language had ever been fully written down.
Thirty years ago he set out to travel across Wiradjuri country to teach our language to a new generation.
Today it is thriving. Charles Sturt University offers a graduate diploma in Wiradjuri language and cultural studies. It is so popular there is a waiting list for enrolments.
It has been some journey for my father, who saw his own grandfather arrested for speaking that same language to him when he was a boy.
But he is not bitter; he holds no enmity towards Australia or Australians.
There have been times when I have been angry for him, when I see the scars this country has left on his body and his soul.
But Dad is bigger than that and better than me. He proudly displays at home his Order of Australia medal for services to his people.
Because of my father, Australia is better.
Australia is better for our contributions
It is better because of so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have believed in this country even when it did not believe in them. People who have fought in this country’s wars, who have represented this country in great sporting arenas, who have worked the roads and the railways and picked the fruit and mustered the cattle.
Australia is better because our people have never wavered in the cause of justice, because our people have protested and petitioned, because we have tested this country in its courts and parliaments.
It is better because a new generation of First Nations people are raising their voices: smart, angry, insistent and irrepressible.
Our warriors are bigger than Australia. They stand as a measurement of what this country can be — and a reminder of what it fails to be.
This day tells us everything we need to know
I choose not to celebrate what is called Australia Day. I have wrestled with the idea. I recognise this country’s remarkable achievements and how it has been a haven for those fleeing the worst of the world. I am grateful to those of us who have struggled and sacrificed to build this country.
But I ask just one question: how can a nation in good conscience mark its national day on the date this land was stolen from the First Peoples?
We could change the date. But that would be too easy.
This day tells us everything we need to know. It reminds us that, two centuries on, Australia still has not reckoned with its original sin.
We will change the date when we have earned it, when it means something. Until then we stand diminished.
On this day, Indigenous people speak back to Australia even if many Australians still don’t like what they hear.
I spent January 25 with my father’s voice. I gathered with other Aboriginal people for a vigil to mark the night before the ships came. We stood with each other and the spirits of our ancestors who on this day in 1788 stood on the cusp of a new world.
We came together because we have survived. Our warriors danced a dance of defiance and strength. We stood together not to mark Australia Day, but who we are.
I stood on the harbour foreshore at Barangaroo and heard my father’s voice whispering as I wrapped the feathers of the Garru around my arms.
I have been asked a lot this year what my thoughts are about Australia Day. I have said enough previously, and will leave it to others to make political cases or protest.
But I will say this: I am here because my people are here. Because my father is here, and far away, and I am thinking of him, praying to Baiame that he gets well.
Mandang Guwu babin. Thank you, dad.