The annual “Australia Day” celebrations already can be a difficult and disturbing time for indigenous people. But a new ad aimed at selling lamb has sparked frustration and dismay, despite its attempt to humorously endorse Australia’s diversity and “inclusivity”.

For the past few years, the Meat and Livestock Association’s annual Australia Day ad for lamb has become a notable tradition. The latest edition resembles a beach barbecue, hosted by a group of Aboriginal people, and is set against key moments of European colonisation.

Brooke Prentis is Aboriginal spokesperson for Common Grace, a Christian activist group dedicated to justice issues. Late last year she saw a leaked version of the script for the Australia Day ad, and was  “extremely worried” by it.

“The whitewashing of history that occurs is quite upsetting.” – Brooke Prentis

“It had highly concerning things in it, like Kevin Rudd appearing in it, bumping shoulders with people and saying ‘sorry, sorry, sorry.’ And people saying, ‘You don’t need to say sorry any more, Kevin.’ So, we were extremely worried.”

The former Prime Minister didn’t make it into the final ad, which was recently released. But famous sportspeople such as Olympic Gold medallist Cathy Freeman, cricketer Adam Gilchrist and rugby great Wendell Sailor are featured.

During the two-and-a-half-minute ad, as Dutch, English, German and many other nationalities arrive, interaction between indigenous and non-indigenous people tries to make light of Australia’s past few hundred years. In response to the British declaring they are the “First Fleet,” an Aboriginal man says: “Yeah, not quite, mate.” When Cathy Freeman asks, “What’s the occasion?”, Australia Day is not mentioned. Instead, “Do we need one?” is the reply. Celebrity chef Poh Ling Yeow exclaims “Hang on, aren’t we all boatpeople?” when more ships sail in for the barbecue. One of the main Aboriginal characters cries: “And you’re welcome.”

“When I actually saw the ad, the fact that it has two Aboriginal men standing on the shore; the good thing is that they got it right that the Dutch arrived first,” says Prentis.

“Captain Cook… never arrived with a platter to share at the barbie.” – Brooke Prentis

“But when the English arrive [in the ad], the whitewashing of history that occurs is quite upsetting. The fact is that Captain Cook or Governor Arthur Phillip never arrived with a platter to share at the barbie.”

“When Captain Cook arrived at Kurnell – I’m someone who has been to Kurnell and grieved for the history – he came to the shore with guns raised,” says Brooke about the Botany Bay site of Cook’s initial meeting with indigenous people.

“On first encountering Aboriginal people at Kurnell, he shot at them. That denied our human dignity and, ever since that point in Australia’s history, we are still waiting for our full human dignity to be recognised in this country.”

“I think Australia Day should be about who we are, and what we do, and how we live together.” – Garry Dronfield

The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress is the Uniting Church in Australia’s peak body of indigenous Christians. Garry Dronfield is acting regional chair of UAICC NSW, as well as Deputy Chair of the national body. He shares Prentis’s dismay at the lamb ad’s depiction of European settlement of Australia.

“One thing that doesn’t sit comfortably is the Captain Cook-style thing at the start of the ad,” says Dronfield. “I’m not in favour of ‘the only history we have is Captain Cook’ in Australia. The atrocities that Captain Cook did – when he killed Aboriginal people on the beach, at Kurnell – doesn’t get spoken about. We just speak about the nice part of Captain Cook arriving here, but that doesn’t erase what he did when he got here.”

Dronfield suggests the ad, like Australia Day, could focus much more upon the multicultural nature of modern-day Australia. People can debate how the past should be remembered and celebrated, but Garry says “when it comes down to it, we live in Australia and we’re multicultural. I think that’s an OK thing, and Australia Day should be based more around that.

“We are descendents of people who were murdered and massacred. That’s the reality for us.” – Brooke Prentis

“The ad doesn’t need all the Captain Cook stuff. It doesn’t need that side of it. I think Australia Day should be about who we are, and what we do, and how we live together.”

Prentis is saddened by how the lamb ad “tries to celebrate diversity” within Australia’s population, but chooses to rekindle memories of European settlement – which marks a time of great loss for indigenous people in Australia.

“We are descendents of people who were murdered and massacred. That’s the reality for us,” says Prentis about indigenous people in Australia. Through her work with Common Grace, Prentis encourages churches to host services of “acknowledgement, lament and prayer” around January 26 each year. “So that Christians can take the time to pause and reflect on our true history, and to stand with their Aboriginal brothers and sisters who are grieving at this time.”

 

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