The Ethics of Australia Day

Veganism encompasses social justice for people and for animals. Only during my university education did I learn what I consider to be the shocking truth about Australia Day. Perhaps the Anglo-Saxon population (of which I have membership) look at the colonisation of Australia on the 26th of January in 1977 as a victory, but for the people that were here for around 60,000 years before it was the most devastating event in their history – which just so happens to be the world’s oldest culture.

My ancestry is convicts from England shipped over to Sydney and Tasmania (correct me if I’m wrong here Nan). I have never identified with this ancestry and am not a fan of the monarchy. Though I confess I also did not learn much about Aboriginal history or culture provided in the curriculum in Grade 9, I feel sure that it was a taught from the British perspective (that is, a British victory and land “gifted” to us white people opposed to “stolen”). A few years ago I heard of Australia Day referred to as Invasion Day and I was genuinely ignorant as to why that was. In my first year of university I learnt that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s life expectancy is 17 years less than that of non-indigenous people. There are many reasons associated with this including the introduction of alcohol from Britain of which Aboriginal people do not have the gut enzyme to metabolise and the devastating spiritual fracture inflicted on them when their land and children were stolen. Since I had my consciousness raised about this issue, it has disgusted me at we celebrate Australia Day on the 26th of January. On this day last year my house mates at the time and I had our housewarming. I asked one of my housemates if we could do an acknowledgement of country before lunch, of which he responded “why would we do that?” The disrespect that is demonstrated to indigenous Australian’s over the last 200 odd years is quite profound:

  • Genocide, violence and rape
  • A generation of children stolen from their parents
  • Dispossession and denial of land 
  • Black slavery (as well as people of Asian ethnicity) in Australian sugar and pearling industries
  • Putting the Union Jack (England’s flag) on the Australian flag (I grew up listening to We Must Have A Flag of Our Own by John Williamson – thanks Dad)
  • Overt and covert discrimination and racism
  • Overwhelmingly larger population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples incarcerated compared to white Australians
  • Housing crisis, inaccessible health care and other forms of social poverty, exacerbated by a lack of government funding
  • John Howard refusing to say sorry
  • Celebrating our national day on the anniversary of the date that the Australian Aboriginal genocide started

To change the date of the national day to any of the other 364 days of the year that aren’t the anniversary of Aboriginal invasion would be a remarkable symbol of respect and a great step in our reconciliation with the traditional custodians of Australia. I want a date where the national day can be celebrated by everyone, which doesn’t ask of Aboriginal people to “stomp of the graves of their ancestors”. Thinking we can keep the date and just be more sympathetic to our national history on the same day is an example of wishful thinking at best, and white privilege at worst. Changing the date is a matter of social justice.

The other things that makes me not overtly enthusiastic about celebrating Australia Day is the carnistic association of meat eating with being Australian. Vegetarian and comedian Dave Hugh’s did a marketing campaign for The Alt Meat Co about the not needing to eat Animals to be Australia’s. Just days before, the annual Australia Day Lamb ad romantisied the colonisation of Australia making out as though captain Phillip got of his ship and shook hands with the Aboriginal people. Building on their vegan bashing efforts of last years campaign, the 2017 ad depicted what could only be described as hippies walking along the shore, the main actor thenasking the actor beside him “should I make a vegan joke?” “Nahhh” was the response however the ostracism of vegans is clear and so was the covert message that meat eating is part of Australian culture. However, eating baby sheep on Australia Day is not cultural, it is cruel.

This notion of culture and tradition begs an interesting question; should aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people be vegan? My opinion – no. The aboriginal people have a strong spiritual connection to their land and food. They do not traditionally farm animals or own them, they hunt and they gather their food. Farm animals, alcohol, sugar and other processed foods were introduced to them after British settlement – to their detriment. Aboriginals in Arnham Land don’t buy farmed animals neatly packaged from the fridge at Coles. We on the other hand have a choice about what food we buy to eat – it can be an uninformed and cruel choice or an informed and kind choice. You decided.

So what can you do?

  • Do an acknowledgement of country, regardless of who that makes uncomfortable around you
  • Talk about this important issue with the people that are important to you to raise consciousness.
  • Celebrate the beauty of our country in nature
  • Learn what you can do to help to Close the Gap
  • To learn about the issues watch SBS series First Contact
  • Advocate to change the day so we can celebrate our beautiful country with all Australians, suggestions have been for Federation Day (January 1st since it occurred in 1901) or Mabo Day (June 3rd since Eddie Mabo in 1992, a Torres Strait Islander, won after a 10 year fight to have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands connection to their land acknowledged by law, both before and after British colonisation. Eddie died 5 months before the High Court recognised this right by law) or May 8, mmm8888888 because “it may be cold in May but not as cold as ignoring genocide”
  • Be kind in your acknowledgement of both what this national day means to other Australians and put vegetables on the BBQ, not baby animals.

For me today is going to include drinking beer and watching Australia beat Pakistan in the last game of the One Day International cricket series in Adelaide. More importantly, I have been reflecting deeply on what it means to be Australian, and how or if, as a country we can reconsile the pain and suffering inflicted on the traditional custodians of the land. And as being born human is the most invisible yet prominant form of privilege there is, I also reflect on if we can ever reconcile with all the animals domesticated in this country after British settlement; born to be enslaved, stolen from their parents and born to die – killed for a thing we call culture.

I am sorry.

We would like to Acknowledge that the land we meet on today is the traditional lands for the Kaurna people and that we respect their spiritual relationship with their Country. We also acknowledge the Kaurna people as the traditional custodians of the Adelaide region and that their cultural and heritage beliefs are still as important to the living Kaurna people today – Reconciliation South Australia

Thanks for reading,

Meg x

References and Resources

To read more about the colonisation of Australia:

To watch and read the criticism about how the annual Australia Day Lamb ad romanticises genocide (and puts down vegans):

Close the Gap:

To read more about Mabo Day:

What is Privilege?

Take the pledge to Love Lambs this Australia Day:

Dave Hughs addresses Australia for The Alt Meat Co:



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