UPDATE: Since the publication of this article, the Guild has released a statement re-affirming their position on Invasion Day. The statement highlights the Guild’s commitment to maintaining normal business functioning on the 27th of January, despite being a public holiday, and the contrasting stance of the University.
Yes, it’s true – for those of you who don’t trust the news filtering in from such UWA social media gems as UWA Drawn to Life, Pelican can confirm that the Guild diaries and planners for 2020 will mark the 26th of January as Invasion Day.
It was the aforementioned meme page that first drew our attention to the change, but the diaries are available to collect from Student Central for anyone who might want to see for themselves, and the reform can also be seen in this post from the Guild. But let’s talk about UWA Drawn to Life for a moment, who took the time to critique the decision as follows – “once again, like the declaring of a climate emergency, you have shown us that you can tackle the big issues & create nationwide change.”
The student guilds of Australia have a long history of engagement in activism, showing support for issues outside of the immediate purport of tertiary education, and most significantly marking up a long string of achievements in this area. The Guild is, in essence, a union, and in this sense, one might argue almost has a duty to engage in collective activism for social welfare. The individual morals and desires of a student might not have much impact on the nation at large, but together we can bring about great change (and have).
But it would be wrong to take UWA Drawn to Life at face value – the thinking behind the post is clear. I may philosophise somewhat, but the social media zeitgeist has recently given rise to the trope of the ‘doomer’ – wordplay on ‘boomer,’ but politically distinct, inclined to a mood of nihilism; ‘the world is doomed and there’s nothing we can do about it so why try anything.’ This attitude seems to inform the criticism levied by the page against the guild motions on climate change and Invasion Day. However, this position itself is far from above criticism.
Consider the active cultivation of apathy towards politics in young people that has been encouraged over the past decades by our conservative majorities – cutting funds to education and dismissing youth issues, as well as intentionally obfuscating the technicalities of youth involvement in the area. The fact is, social change can be achieved by collective action, and it is the entrenched powers that be who are out to deny this reality, profiting from the suffering that they have made you believe you cannot escape. Political inaction is not neutral. It is inherently for the status quo, and if one acknowledges a problem therein, as UWA Drawn to Life does (albeit only in shallow irony to further an agenda of inaction), then one cannot help but be obligated to take positive action against it. Even if you fail, at least you tried, something that those more content to level anonymous criticism from behind a screen without actually doing anything substantial to improve society themselves seem unable to appreciate.
I didn’t entirely intend this campus news article to turn into a takedown of a uni meme page, but here we are. Bre Shanahan, the 2020 UWA Student Guild President, had this to say:
“The UWA Student Guild chooses not to celebrate Australia Day, acknowledging that it marks the day of invasion of the lands of hundreds of groups of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, which has since caused over two centuries of dispossession of Indigenous people. We are committed to acknowledging these truths for what they are, and moving forward in reconciliation.”
Oh look, principles. Personally, I’d much rather see a set of principles than an air of resigned apathy coming from the Guild. But in any case, the Guild’s position is more than just a statement, rendering the doomer critique rather ill fitting. The Guild will have staff working over the public holiday in lieu on the 27th (although UWA will not), and it is worth noting that the Curtin Student Guild will do the same. The Invasion Day Rally on the 26th is also supported by the UWA Student Guild, which will be present on the day. A number of other events and initiatives are set to be announced soon, according to the Guild President.
To me, it seems plain that these aren’t just words – action will follow, and in fact already has. But even if the Guild were only making empty statements, I would find myself far more morally comfortable agreeing in principle, and asking what else I might do in support of the issues, than merely heckling from the sidelines.
Words by Elanor Leman
Image: ID 108771436 © David Hewison | Dreamstime.com