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This January 26, Indigenous Australians are feeling strong emotions of love, respect, sadness and hope


Survival Day, Invasion Day, Day of Mourning, Australia Day — common terms you might hear in the lead up to January 26.

But what do they mean to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and how do they feel about this date?  

For Gammeya Dharawal man, Jacob Morris, there isn’t one emotion that fully captures it.

“It’s a day of teaching. It’s a day of celebrating as well. We’re not up there celebrating the Union Jack, we’re celebrating us,” he says. 

But the day also reminds Jacob of the treatment of First Nations people throughout history.

“Anger … that is still what is felt today and that comes from the sadness, trauma and the hurt,” he said. 

“But what we try and do is focus on what we want Australia to be, not what it has been because it’s all about our kids. We want our kids to have a nice, safe place where they are loved and embraced as well.”

Jacob Morris wants Indiegnous kids to be proud of where they come from(ABC News: John Gunn)

Jacob Morris is dancing

A young leader and role model for his community, Jacob spends his working days teaching the next generation about the history and culture of Dharawal and Yuin country, along the south coast of New South Wales.  

“I’ve read things and cried because of the heartache and trauma of saying ‘that happened to someone in my bloodline’ … but with kids it’s about putting it to them in a way they can understand,” he said.  

And that’s when his thoughts around January 26 changed. 

“I’ve worked with so many non-Indigenous kids and I couldn’t allow that child to call me uncle and then push them away. I don’t care what nationality or religion they are, I have to have respect and love back for them,” he said. 

“I’m not just having fun with the kids … I’m changing their perspective on Indigenous people.” 

Jacob teaches the kids dances that represent his culture and community.(ABC News: John Gunn)

This year, he will be leading a big corroboree on the banks of Moona Moona Creek in Huskisson to mark January 26. 

Using this traditional cultural ceremony, he hopes to create a conversation around the history of Australia Day by inviting non-Indigenous people to be part of the dance. 

“That’s what a corroboree is all about, coming together, sitting down, getting over our differences and moving forward,” he said. 

Uncle John said he will be ‘sitting back in his golden years’ watching the next generation(ABC News: Kirstie Wellauer)

Uncle John Delaney is reflecting

Not many First Nations people can imagine themselves swinging a golf club at almost 90 years old.  

But that’s what Kamilaroi elder, Uncle John Delaney, plans to do on January 26. 

“I’ll probably just go for a game of golf, I’m feeling very despondent about the result of the referendum,” he said. 

For Uncle John, the day has “been on our conscience all my life.” 

“Australia Day was always a black mark for us,” he said. 

Looking back on the years, Uncle John’s earliest memory of January 26 was in 1938, the year Indigenous rights campaigners declared it a  ‘A Day of Mourning‘.

Uncle John went with his family to the bustling city of Sydney, to witness what became a landmark event in Australia’s history.

Uncle John now enjoys spending time with his puppy Yarrin (ABC News: Marcus Stimson )

Reflecting on the years, he says Jack Patten – civil rights leader and organiser of the protest – inspired him to take on a career working to improve the lives of his people. 

“It’s been the seed that Jack Patten, William Temper, Bill Ferguson and Aunty Pearl Gibbs set in 1938 that will stay with me forever,” he said. 

Uncle John has fought for recognition and Indigenous rights, and has marched in January 26 protests — rubbing shoulders with pioneers like Arrernte and Kalkadoon trailblazer Charlie Perkins, Bundjalung justice campaigner Sol Bellear and Yorta Yorta and Wiradjuri leader, Dr Naomi Mayers.

“Just being there marching in ‘67 holding the placards up, and ‘88 doing the same thing was so self-inspiring. I was so pleased again to be in such illustrious company of our people,” he said. 

While he can no longer march in January 26 rallies, he has a message for First Nations people and allies. 

“Keep the flame burning,” he said. 

Nikki Foy wants to spend the day reflecting and healing with her community.(ABC Ballarat: Rochelle Kirkham)

Nikki Foy is healing

For the past five years, Nikki Foy has been organising the Survival Day dawn ceremony in her hometown of Ballarat, Victoria. 

The Gunditjmara woman wasn’t sure if she was going to attend this years’ service, after the bruising debates on Indigenous progress last year.

“It wasn’t a decision I took lightly,” she told the ABC. 

“But just like our ancestors, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and we continue to carry on. We are resilient people.” 

Ballarat’s Survival Day dawn ceremony is a special service that honours First Nations people who died “fighting and defending country” in the frontier wars that began with the planting of the British flag at Sydney Cove in 1788. 

“Just like Anzac Day, Australians come together and reflect, remember and honour soldiers who went off to war and that’s exactly what our Aboriginal ancestors did in the frontier wars here,” she said. 

A large crowd attended the first dawn ceremony in 2020.(Supplied: Chip Shots Photography)

For many, hearing those stories as dawn breaks and watching the sun rise as it glistens over the waters of Lake Wendouree has created a space to reflect – and heal the wounds of the past. 

“We had elders come and they felt like they’d been able to start the healing process knowing they weren’t alone and their whole community who was [there] that morning was supporting them,” Nikki said. 

This January 26, Nikki is hoping the ceremony will offer her the same healing she’s provided for her local community over the years. 

“I’m hoping to feel connected: connected to family, connected to friends, connected to community.  

“It’s a day of mourning for us, but it’s also a day of reflection and celebrating our resilience and who we are,” she said. 



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