It is a popular trend emerging with several big players publicly announcing that their employees have a choice, including Woolworths, Telstra, Wesfarmers, KPMG, BHP, Deloitte and Paramount. In the higher education sector, the University of Woollongong is also leading the way.
The offering is in recognition of the complex nature of this national holiday, a day that has been celebrated by some, and fraught with complexities for others, since it was declared a public holiday in 1994.
It is also an opportunity to be brave and tackle the unfinished business of reconciliation and move from being an ally in reconciliation to meaningfully participating in braver and more impactful action to achieve reconciliation.
Simply put, the university wants to live and breathe their Reconciliation Action Plan.
It is complex, controversial and complicated
Over the years First Nations people have recognised January 26 as a day of mourning the history following the arrival of Sir Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet in 1788.
The day has also been regarded as Survival Day, or Invasion Day, due to the violent and devastating history that Australia’s First Nations people have endured, suffering massacres, land theft, stolen children and widespread oppression at the hands of the colonising forces over close to two and a half centuries.
A new approach for 2023
Torrens University Australia’s Reconciliation Action Plan was recently renewed, a “Reflect” plan calling for an equitable and reconciled Australia.
With hundreds Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students studying, the university continues to celebrate and acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture across everything that it does.
“At Torrens University we take a stand for empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and that involves championing the past, present and future value that they bring to education,” explains Rochelle Morris, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Liaison Officer, Torrens University Australia.
As a proud Certified B Corporation with “Be Good” as a guiding value, and recognising that the day is complex for many, the university has decided to offer staff the option to either take January 26 as the scheduled public holiday, or to work and take a day in lieu at a later date. “The history of January 26 and the increasing public discussion and debate about the day, its meaning, and particularly its painful associations for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, means that we believe it is best to provide an option for staff to choose how best they acknowledge the holiday,” said Linda Brown, CEO and President, Torrens University Australia.
Our Indigenous staff graciously share personal experience throughout the organisation
Lesli Kirwan, a proud Ngarabal YugumbaI woman, began work at Torrens University Australia last June as Senior Learning Facilitator First Nations Curriculum Health Sciences. Part of her role is to share her experience with colleagues and students in the university’s health faculty, and throughout the organisation.The Identified role was a vital step forward for the university and a pledge to ensure Torrens University Australia is a desirable place for First Nations peoples to work, and study.
Lesli believes this year it is time for deep reflection, a time to learn, a time to understand that for her Australia Day cannot be the January 26.
“It is time to raise the topic once again of how this date could be changed to include everyone in celebrating our multi-cultural country of Australia,” Lesli explains. “As it stands Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are excluded from celebrating being part of the people of Australia.”
“This is not a day where I can celebrate what is now Australia, instead as an Aboriginal woman, I mourn the loss of people, loved ones, language, culture, intergenerational trauma and the damage to Country that continues.”
“It’s about protection of culture”
Rochelle Morris, a proud Gumbaynggirr woman, and Torrens University Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Liaison Officer, reflects on what this day means for her, and her mother, a stolen generation survivor, and siblings and children with blended Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal heritage.
“I often wonder how this crazy little mob cope with complex issues such as Australia Day,” said Rochelle. “It starts with yarns at the dinner table where we have difficult conversations with love and care about the protection of culture, understanding our family’s history, and keeping it alive the best way we know how.”
She said she can’t speak for all Aboriginal people and their feelings about the day, saying each person handles the day differently with strength and courage.
“It is important to hear, listen and learn about the history behind January 26, but it’s also important to reflect on personal lived experiences and show empathy towards this complex issue,” said Rochelle.
Torrens University staff are each considering how they can each respectfully approach January 26 this week
“Let’s be honest it’s an exhausting day and lead up for a majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” said Rochelle. “It is everyone’s responsibility to do their part to understand and learn about the day and look for ways to respectfully approach January 26.”
Rochelle and Lesli suggest starting by checking out local events including marches and protests or Invasion and Survival Day events taking place in all major cities. These events always offer an educational experience and a chance to learn.
Following and supporting First Nations businesses and artists all year round is a great place to continue learning, including Clothing The Gaps, Indigenous Literacy Foundation, Gammin Threads and Healing Foundation.