26 songs by First Nations artists to prove that “Australia Day” is a VERY bad idea

Every time I’m about to write about a topic related to the First Nations artists, I’m a little stressed.

Firstly, because I’m not Australian. So, by definition, I should probably stick to my European backyard. Secondly, can a white girl contribute to the discussion about injustices she will (most likely) never face? Last but not least, I’m definitely not an expert on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and/or current affairs.

What I can do pretty well, though, is appreciate First Nations storytelling in music. So today, I will let their songs convince you that January 26, known to some as “Australia Day”, is not exactly a happy celebration bringing the whole nation together.

PART 92 OF “AM I EVER GONNA SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN?” A RANDOM COLLECTION OF UNKNOWINGLY OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE

Yes, I’ve made you a playlist. But before we get to it, I want to share a few facts with you.

When I first got to Oz in 2017, I loved the idea of “Australia Day”. It’s a public holiday Down Under (so no workie) with barbies everywhere, colourful parades in the streets, family-friendly community events and official government ceremonies (like granting citizenship). What’s not to like, right?

Back then, I didn’t know much about the history and treatment of Aboriginal people in the country. Yes, I admit that it was ignorant of me. But I really wanted to make up for it, so I started volunteering for Amnesty International in Melbourne. And it radically changed my perspective on things.

Here’s why:

The Indigenous peoples of Australia call January 26 “Invasion Day” or “Survival Day”. For them, it’s an insult to the long account of suffering and being discriminated against. So not exactly a cause for celebration, wouldn’t you agree?

It’s not my place to lecture you on Australian history. But if you want to gain some insight into the reasons behind this protest, there are several trustworthy sources on the internet. This recent opinion from NITV (National Indigenous Television) and this news.com explainer article are good ways to start digging.

The “Change The Date” movement, related to moving the celebrations to a different day of the year, is backed by artists on both sides, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Many radio stations and music publications support this idea, too. Before 2018, triple j held its famous Hottest 100 countdown traditionally on January 26. Until they openly asked their audience about their opinion.

Surprisingly, many young Australians support scrapping the festivities or finding an alternative form to celebrate together. triple j‘s poll proved that 60% of the 64,990 respondents were in favour of moving the date. Considering that they are one of the most influential music broadcasters in the country, that is quite a big deal.

Just a few days ago, DRMNGNOW, a First nations musician and activist, ran a similar survey on his socials. It resulted in this:

But let’s go back to the music. I promised you a playlist, after all. And whilst it doesn’t make much sense to describe every track on it, I’d like to point out a few things as well.

There are 26 tracks on the playlist, all by First Nations artists (and sometimes including a non-indigenous guest). Each one of them, in their own way, tells a story about the Aboriginal history in Australia.

They’re not your obvious choices, though. Instead, I wanted to focus on the most recent releases (from the last 5 years) to prove that the fight for Indigenous peoples’ rightful place in Australian history and society is a recurring topic.

So you won’t see “Took the Children Away” by Archie Roach on the playlist, for instance. And this is not to say that I don’t recognise the artist’s contribution to the debate. But it was released in 1990, so you probably know it anyway. Another of Archie’s songs is there, and I promise you that it’s equally revealing.

Amongst other famous songs from recent years, I’ve already discussed “January 26” by A.B. Original in other posts. So it’s not on this playlist, either. But I’ve included a more recent tune by Briggs instead. Because I do admire the Shepparton’s native for being so vocal (in both meanings of the word) on this topic.

You’ll notice I’ve added Midnight Oil‘s entire The Makarrata Project record. The reason is that it’s a great educational resource in itself. It would be a shame to drop any of the songs in that context, especially that each one of them includes a collaboration with a very diverse group of Aboriginal artists, like Jessica Mauboy, Gurrumul or Dan Sultan.

A significant portion of the playlist is taken by hip-hop artists. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. And it’s not because I’m a rap fanatic.

Generally speaking, music is one of the best tools for social activism. And rap, in particular, has the power to mobilise followers to advocate for change. So, apart from Briggs, you’ll hear Birdz (twice), BARKAA or J-MILLA, too.

Contrary to what you might expect, not all titles are aggressive, protest songs. There are some soft, reconciliation-driven tunes on the playlist as well. If artists like Yirrmal, Kutcha Edwards or Lady Lush ring a bell, you know you will get beaut lyrical and musical content from them.

Lastly, I want to reiterate one thing. There are soooo many other amazing First Nations musicians out there. Not all of them have an active presence on socials or streaming services, unfortunately. So I couldn’t include their music on the playlist this time.

So if you’re keen to get to know more Indigenous musicians, this Wikipedia article mentions heaps of lesser-known names that you’ll surely not come across overseas.

I also strongly encourage you to browse IndigiTUBE, “the online media platform by and for First Nations people, preserving language and culture for future generations”. They have a great app as well, available for both iOS and Android. I guarantee you’ll find some real gems there.

Finally, here’s my 26-song all-Indigenous playlist. I hope it’ll serve as a useful piece of the puzzle for you to better understand why “Australia Day” is the opposite of what the name might suggest.

Cover image: Artwork designed by Jean-Marie Mounier, painted by Ms Koller, taken from ABC


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You’ll find more posts about the First Nations music and artists here:

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