A National Day for all Australians

26 January: Position statement

Conversation and truth-telling

26 January

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a connection to these lands which extend back over 60,000 years. On 26 January 1788 British colonisation commenced, and what followed is a long history of marginalisation, dispossession and persecution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. From loss of life, culture and connection to country, to the forced removal of children from their families, known as the stolen generation, and ongoing discrimination and disadvantage.

Due to this, the date of 26 January represents, for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, a reminder of the loss and ongoing trauma experienced as a result of colonisation.

headspace acknowledges that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians feel profound offense, hurt and exclusion during the celebrations on this date.

Celebrating Australia

Australians cherish the opportunity to reflect on and be grateful for all that Australia means to us, and we stand together with the Australian community in recognising the importance of this great national day of celebration and reflection.

Australia Day is an opportunity to celebrate our great nation and all that it stands for. Our national day brings families and communities together across the country for events, and the Australia Day honours acknowledge those Australians who have made an extraordinary contribution to our nation.

While the date of 26 January has been acknowledged in some form since the early 1800s, it was 1935 when it first became known as ‘Australia Day’, with festivities held on a long weekend, including the nearest Monday. From 1994, all states and territories endorsed the celebration of Australia Day as a national public holiday to be held on that date.

Impacts on social and emotional wellbeing

Social and emotional wellbeing relates to a person’s resilience and connection; from a network of relationships and community, to connection to language, country, and culture.

The social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continues to be severely impacted as a result of the ongoing and intergenerational trauma which began at colonisation, and the ongoing racism they experience in our community.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experience significant disadvantage, as demonstrated by the stubborn gap in key indicators of health and wellbeing outlined annually in the Closing the Gap report.[i]

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are overrepresented nationally for mental health and suicide risk.

Around 33% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people aged 15-24 report high to very high levels of psychological distress, while suicide rates are over three times higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people aged 15–24 than non-Indigenous young people in the same age group.

Tragically, suicide is the leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people aged 5-17, accounting for 40% of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child deaths. [ii] [iii] [iv]

As a youth mental health organisation, supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young peoples’ wellbeing is critical to our work – both through our services and in advocating for change to the drivers of poor mental wellbeing.

For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, Australia Day is not a day in which they feel celebrated and included, but one that reinforces their distress and feelings of exclusion.

Truth telling

In recent years, there has been growing discussion around the date of Australia Day as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have led the campaign to raise awareness of the significance of the date and the ongoing impacts of colonisation.

Young people across our network of headspace centres and through our youth participation groups, have told us they believe it is time for truth telling, and an inclusive conversation about Australia Day and colonisation. This has been reinforced by our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group, which includes representatives from the headspace network across Australia, industry professionals, young people, Elders and natural helpers.

It is time for a national conversation on Australia Day. We need to listen to and learn from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and engage in truth telling about our history. For many, it is about understanding and learning from the past and envisioning a future in which we can achieve reconciliation and a fair, just and inclusive society for all Australians.

headspace encourages all Australians to celebrate what’s great about our nation while joining the conversation to talk honestly and openly about our history, what we can learn from it and how we can chart a course to a brighter future for all young people in Australia.

headspace is a place of healing for young people. We know that for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, Australia Day is a distressing reminder of a traumatic history and a day that reinforces feelings of exclusion. The process of healing cannot begin until we have honest conversation and truth-telling about our history and its impacts.

headspace offers services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people who may be struggling. Please reach out to your local headspace centre, or access support online at headspace.org.au/yarn-safe

[i] Australian Government, (2020) ‘Closing the Gap Report

[ii] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescent and youth health and wellbeing 2018. Cat. no. IHW 202. Canberra: AIHW.

[iii] Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018). Intentional self-harm in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

[iv] Dudgeon, P., Calma, T., & Holland, C. (2017). The context and causes of the suicide of Indigenous people in Australia. Journal of Indigenous Wellbeing, 2(2), 5–15