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Why some YSAS staff are choosing to work on Australia Day this year

January 26 marks the beginning of colonisation in Australia, and for many First Nations people, it’s a day of mourning. YSAS staff can now choose to work on Australia Day in support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and have a day off on a different day. Here’s why some staff are making the switch.

Instead of having a day off this Australia Day, Lucy Ruchel from headspace Collingwood will be planning an event for First Nations young people.

Lucy, who is a Community Engagement and Youth Participation worker at YSAS, says it’s a way for her to stand in solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“I think choosing to work means for me that I know it’s not a date of celebration,” she says.

She and a few of her colleagues are using the day “to do some planning and dedicate some time to create a meaningful project for First Nations people.”

Under the new YSAS Enterprise Bargaining Agreement introduced last year, employees now have the option to swap out the Australia Day public holiday with another day in the same pay period, or during NAIDOC week in the same year

January 26, 1788 marks the date the first British ships arrived in Australia, which for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represents the beginning of their people’s dispossession.

YSAS Aboriginal youth mental health workers Ross Lewis and Sharmila Austin from headspace Frankston say for First Nations people, it’s a day of survival, not celebration.

“It’s a date that recognizes the resilience and strength of our First Nations Australians, and a time to reflect on the history and culture of First Nations people across Australia,” they said.

“We need to listen, learn, and amplify the voices of our First Nations people, ensuring their stories and experiences are heard and respected.”

While it is impossible for many of us to truly understand the trauma that First Nations people have experienced and continue to experience due to colonisation, choosing not to celebrate Australia Day can be a small way to show support.

Intake and Access Clinician Liam O’Neill at headspace Collingwood, who is also working on the day, says it’s important for staff to be able to choose to work.

“It promotes inclusivity and respect for Indigenous Australians as well as opens conversations around the truth of Survival Day,” he says.

“Additionally, it allows employees like myself to align our work with our personal values, in a practical way.”

Liam says he plans to spend the day learning about Indigenous history by watching The Australian Wars and “participating in Survival Day events – hopefully the march”.

Lucy says she hopes YSAS does more to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the future.

“It might be cool for YSAS to support staff to attend the Invasion Day rally under the organisational name,” she says.

“But this is really great first step and it’s also the first year we’re doing it, so let’s see.”

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