If you’ve been on Australian social media lately, you may have seen a message: #ChangeTheDate.
Jan. 26, 1788 was the first official day of European colonialism in Australia. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it marks the beginning of a cycle of dispossession and violence.
“Australia Day” has been celebrated across the country on Jan. 26 only since 1994, and Indigenous Australians have been fighting to have the date changed for much longer than that. More recently, the movement has been coming together online under the hashtag, #ChangeTheDate.
On Tuesday, a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander hip hop artists and allies released a song and 360 degree video experience called “Change the Date,” organised by NITV. Contributors Nooky, Birdz, Kaylah Truth and L-Fresh the Lion spoke to Mashable about their song, and what social media activism means to them.
Keep stoking the fire
Yuin man and hip hop artist Corey Webster, known as Nooky, takes his inspiration from Indigenous activists like Bob McLeod, Charlie Perkins and Chicka Dixon.
“They’re the reason I make music,” he told Mashable. “They had their fight and they did it their way. I see music as my fight, my way of contributing.”
In recent years, he said he’s noticed the #ChangeTheDate movement gaining traction, particularly on social media. “If you look at the past two, maybe three years, there’s been a big online conversation about it,” Nooky said. “[Social media] is the place where the conversations spark — the good conversations and the bad.”
He sees their track “Change the Date” as “chucking more wood” on the fire started by protest songs like “January 26” by the group A.B. Original, but finding a new date to celebrate Australia Day is by no means the only goal.
“If they change the date, fine. I’m still not going to celebrate Australia day. Not till I can call myself equal,” he said.
Butchulla man Nathan Bird, or Birdz, said he likes to see his music as a social platform.
“It’s very important to me that it comes from an honest place,” he said, “That just happens to connect with the history of this country … It’s not just Indigenous history, it’s Australian history.”
Birdz said he never celebrated Jan. 26, even as a child. “As a kid, I didn’t feel comfortable celebrating, I’ve always felt something was wrong,” he explained. “And later, you learn the truth about what happened.”
“It’s very much the anniversary of invasion to me as an Indigenous person. The beginning of genocide and dispossession for my people.”
In his view, spreading the word about #ChangeTheDate on social media can help people open up to the truth about Australian history, but like any movement, it’s also about balance.
Social media messages have the potential to create change, but only if backed by action. “You can’t just always live online,” he said. “There’s a lot of wrong to be righted, and a lot of things that need changing on the ground.”
For Gurang and Ngugi woman Kaylah Truth A.K.A. Kaylah Tyson, the fight against Australia Day (or Invasion Day as it’s often called) is something she’s been aware of all her life, but it wasn’t always a simple matter.
Her father is English, and she often spent Jan. 26 with that side of her family, she told Mashable, who barbecued and listened to the Hottest 100 like much of Australia. “It hasn’t always been black and white,” she added.
It’s this issue of identity that she wanted to shared in her “Change the Date” verse. “I was trying to paint a picture of what it was like for me growing up as a child with one Aboriginal parent and one non-Aboriginal parent,” she explained. “Trying to figure out where I fit within that.”
Tyson said she’s seen more conversation about #ChangeTheDate over the past 12 months. “There has been more awareness throughout the mainstream public, and more people are joining in on the conversation,” she said.
The musician sees positivity in the way the internet can share a nuanced message about Indigenous issues. “I think that’s the beauty of the internet,” she said. “It’s so easy to spread our message from here to the other side of the world in one click. It can be such a powerful tool if we use it in the right way.”
“If we don’t start having the conversations, we don’t give each other the chance to become educated,” she added. “Now that we have the internet and we have so much information at our fingertips, it’s great to share a video and use a hashtag, but you have to take the next step and educate yourself.”
Take the time to listen
Rapper Sukhdeep Singh, known as L-Fresh the Lion, said he’s never really celebrated Jan. 26.
As a Sikh man, he’s been trying to listen and learn from Indigenous people why the date is harmful, and share those insights with his own community.
“I’ve tried to spend the day talking to my community about what I’ve learnt … to let them know that celebrating Jan. 26 may be seem like a positive thing for us in trying to be embraced by the wider community, but it’s really disrespectful to Indigenous people.”
For L-Fresh, the digital world is an extension of himself, so he tries to share what’s important on his social media accounts.
“A lot of people occupy the digital world as much as the real world — it’s an important space to be a part of,” he said.
He sees the movement as gaining traction, but only because people like himself are doing what should have always been done — listening to and respecting Indigenous people and their voices, and getting behind their movements.
“We cannot, as individuals who come here and celebrate Australia’s values, benefits and freedoms — we cannot do that genuinely and feel good about it when Indigenous people are still fighting,” he explained.
“For me, it all starts with listening and then applying what you’ve learnt from Indigenous people, and applying that to your family and friends — having that conversation.”