Australia Day 2020: Indigenous leader, new citizens and veteran have their say

With Australia Day looming large, four NSW Central West community leaders gave us their thoughts on the day.

They shared their thoughts on the relevance of this national day in a modern society, whether it should be celebrated and what the day means to them.

Gerald Power, Colleen Connor, Anm Sabbir and John Graham speak out.

Gerald Power, Colleen Connor, Anm Sabbir and John Graham speak out.

"We can't change the past, but we can change the future"

Gerald Power, a Kanaka man, is an Indigenous leader in the Orange community who runs two successful businesses.

"Australia Day is an opportunity to celebrate the very fabric of what is now, like many nations, a very diverse number of people," he said.

However, he is well aware some Indigenous people do not feel January 26 is a day for celebration.

IT'S ABOUT ATTITUDES: Gerald Power, Kanaka man, and Indigenous leader says Australia Day is a day of celebration for him. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

IT'S ABOUT ATTITUDES: Gerald Power, Kanaka man, and Indigenous leader says Australia Day is a day of celebration for him. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

"Some feel it's an invasion day or some feel it's a day of mourning in relation to the detrimental effect it had on the first nation people," he said.

"Some people feel bitter toward the 200-plus years of colonisation.

"I understand the the detrimental effects of colonisation and what Australia Day means to some elders."

Mr Power is the first to admit lives were shattered by the colonisation of Australia by the British and this irreversibly changed his people.

We can't change the past, but we can change the future. It's about having the right attitude.

Gerald Power, Kanaka man and Indigenous leader

In generations past when his great-great-grandfather was a young boy, he was taken from the Solomon Islands and put to work as a slave in the sugar cane plantations in Queensland.

It was Juru country for Indigenous people and it wasn't until 1903 that the Queensland Government abolished slavery.

Mr Power said even from these early days, working hard had been important to his family.

"They used to say 'if you can work, if you can bend your back, then you should work. Don't be on social security'," he said of his ancestors.

"It's the values that pour down from them that we value. If you pour down 'woe is me and life is a can of worms', then that's all you'll get.

"It's because of that legacy of our grandparents that we work hard."

While Mr Power's ancestors were brought to Australia by force, he said it was time to put the focus elsewhere.

"We can't change the past, but we can change the future. It's about having the right attitude," he said.

Mr Power said he looked at Australia Day as an opportunity to celebrate and be thankful.

It's the values that pour down from them that we value. If you pour down 'woe is me and life is a can of worms', then that's all you'll get.

Gerald Power, Kanaka man and Indigenous leader

"To us, the Kanaka people, it's a day of celebration because if you look at the Solomon Islands, it's still a third world country," he said.

"We are thankful that we're over here."

Soon-to-be citizens have their say on Australia Day

Life was initially an extraordinary struggle for Anm Sabbir when he migrated to Australia - new culture, new food and no family or friends around him for support.

He grew up in Bangladesh, which is one of the world's most densely populated countries. With a population of 163 million, there's around 1100 people for every square kilometre.

PROUD: Bathurst man Anm Sabbir is originally from Bangladesh but he will become a citizen this Australia Day. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK

PROUD: Bathurst man Anm Sabbir is originally from Bangladesh but he will become a citizen this Australia Day. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK

By comparison, there's around 3.3 people for every square kilometre in Australia.

But in just a few days he says he will proudly call Australia home when he becomes a citizen on Australia Day.

Mr Sabbir is among 37 people in Bathurst who will take the pledge to call this wide brown land their own.

In Bangladesh, Mr Sabbir was a librarian at Brac University in the capital Dhaka, but was craving more opportunity and a new life in Australia.

"I thought that it'd be a good career move for me and I think a big honour for anyone," he said.

"It's a big opportunity for anyone who wants to learn new things."

He arrived in Adelaide in 2015 under the Australian Government's skilled migration program, but life proved tough.

"There was new culture and new food; everything is different to Asia or my home country," Mr Sabbir said.

It's a great opportunity to be in Australia. I'm very lucky to get my citizenship after so much hard work.

Bangladesh born Anm Sabbir

"The first couple of months I was really struggling when I got here."

It was also difficult to find a job and his first position was as a kitchen hand in a restaurant, though he kept his love of books alive by volunteering in a library.

"I came to Australia as a temporary resident, but you need to have a full-time job and to stay in Adelaide for the first two years to apply for permanent residency," he said.

Mr Sabbir moved into fruit picking, where he became a team leader. He also began volunteering with the Department of Correctional Services.

"I was giving time to prisoners by educating them and encouraging them to study and helping them with their English," he said.

As time progressed, Mr Sabbir returned briefly to Bangladesh to marry Hasna Sultana Riza before the couple returned to Australia.

Finally, in October 2017, Mr Sabbir was granted permanent residency in Australia.

In December 2018, he became a full-time librarian at Charles Sturt University's Bathurst campus.

In Bangladesh, he said people dream about what their life could be or career goals, but in Australia you could actually make them happen.

In his birth country, he said a lack of money, your age and the huge population of people trying to get into tertiary education holds you back.

By comparison, Australia's relatively small population leaves him feeling he has space to progress in his career and his life.

"I feel like there's space upon space in Australia. I lived in the capital Dhaka and the population was 10 million. It was always very crowded," he said.

As the day approaches where Mr Sabbir will become an Australian citizen, he said it was an honour and a big achievement.

"It's a great opportunity to be in Australia. I'm very lucky to get my citizenship after so much hard work. So many things have happened to me these last few years," he said.

"Australia Day will always be a special day for me."

All the way from the US of A

Chicago-born Colleen Connor will be among 35 people in Dubbo who will make the pledge to become a citizen this Australia Day.

She originally came to Australia as a backpacker in 2012 and a chance meeting just a few weeks later changed her life.

"I met my partner [Bevan] and he's originally from Echuca in Victoria," she said of their meeting in Melbourne.

FUTURE FOCUSED: Colleen Connor is one of 35 people in Dubbo who will become a citizen on Australia Day. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE

FUTURE FOCUSED: Colleen Connor is one of 35 people in Dubbo who will become a citizen on Australia Day. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE

Since then they've lived in Wodonga and Darwin before deciding to move to Dubbo three years ago to make a life for themselves.

"He's a podiatrist and we had an opportunity to open up a business here," she said.

"I work as the guest experience and marketing manager for Dubbo City Toyota.

"We've put down roots here, buying a house and rescuing a dog."

Days out from becoming a citizen, Ms Connor said she had mixed feelings.

"Australia is my home ... I'm excited about the 26th, but I'm a little bit nervous," she said.

"My interpretation of this day is that it was relaxed with a barbecue and a Aussie taco [sausage sandwich], but I know it's been controversial."

Ms Connor hopes that the day will be inclusive for all people from all backgrounds, cultures and countries.

"It's going to be a great Australia Day," she said.

Who says that we can't change our traditions

Australia Day has become divisive and it is of less importance to younger people, ex-Australian Army man John Graham says.

For 36 years, he devoted his life to service, including working in the Australian Army's Intelligence Corp undertaking security operations, counter-intelligence and vetting people.

OPEN TO CHANGE: Former Australian Army man John Graham says Australia Day has become a bit divisive. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK

OPEN TO CHANGE: Former Australian Army man John Graham says Australia Day has become a bit divisive. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK

He served in Germany, India, in Pakistan with the United Nations, in Papua New Guinea as an instructor and in East Timor as a peacekeeper.

Bathurst man Mr Graham said traditionally Australia Day was a celebration for many people, including those like him who had served for their country in the Defence Force.

"It used to be a very special day," he said.

But he fears the meaning of the day has changed, especially for younger generations.

"Australia Day has become a bit divisive and the Australian Government should make it more inclusive," he said.

"We should now have more recognition of Indigenous people and Indigenous people who served.

"There should be more equality on Australia Day and throughout the year and in the Constitution."

Mr Graham said there should be an annual day of celebration for all people and he is not opposed to a change of date.

"I think we need to celebrate something on some day and nothing says we can't change tradition," he said.

Despite arguments for and against celebrating Australia Day on January 26, Mr Graham said other days on the calendar were far more important to him.

"As a veteran, my important days are Anzac Day and Remembrance Day," he said.