"We can't change the past but we do have the power to change the future."
These words were said at the second Survival Day dawn ceremony hosted at Lake Wendouree on Tuesday morning.
The ceremony, which began at 5.30am before the sun had risen, was organised by Ballarat's Koorie Engagement Action Group (KEAG).
The second such event hosted in Ballarat, the moving and emotional service was also live-streamed from View Point due to restrictions on numbers as a result of COVID-19.
Numerous speakers reflected on the significance of January 26, 1788, and the devastating effects colonisation has had on Indigenous communities across the country.
One speaker, Aunty Fay, described the date as representing "pain, loss and grief" for Indigenous Australians.
KEAG's co-chair, Jon Kanoa, also spoke passionately.
Explaining his mixed heritage and how it influences who he is as a person, he said individual heritage played an important role in giving a person a sense of identity, belonging and shaping their values. And national heritage and identity is no different.
"Since 1788 our 65,000-year-old culture and identity has been challenged in ways that are difficult to be proud of.
"No treaty on arrival, no agreements and frontier wars commenced. Slavery was prominent. Children were removed. Massacres occurred. Culture was destroyed or impacted significantly and genocide was on the agenda. Our sovereignty was never seeded but we have survived."
Acknowledging the significance of what had occurred but that it could not be changed, he said Australians needed to reflect on the chain of events after 1788, how it had shaped our history and how it would impact the future.
Mr Kanoa said an important part of this was "truth telling" - even though it is confronting, he said education was necessary to bring about change.
What we can change are attitudes and understanding what did occur, why it occurred and how we can play our part in changing the narrative and moving forward together.Jon Kanoa
"What we can change are attitudes and understanding what did occur, why it occurred and how we can play our part in changing the narrative and moving forward together.
"Whether implementing curriculum into the education system, enhancing existing cultural awareness sessions, community consultations or events such as this - we need to go back before we move forward."
"This way more informed opinions and educated approaches can be included in those tricky conversations around topics that either divide us or bring us together - hopefully the latter."
Mr Kanoa said Ballarat had played a significant part in Australia's "dark past", as a place where many of the stolen generation were housed in orphanages, and the impact of these atrocities were still impacting families today.
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He said the service was an opportunity for the whole community to come together.
"We can't change the past but we do have the power to change the future. We ask for you not to walk in front of us or behind us - we want you beside us. "
Aunty Fay said while it was "our ancestors who bore the brunt of invasion, it's our children who continue to pay the price".
She also spoke about the need for more education about what had occurred during colonisation.
"We want Australia to hasten towards healing so that our families can recover and put a stop to the ongoing trauma," she said, citing youth mental health issues and the rate of suicide as examples.
"Our country was stolen - there's no denying that - and there is still no recompense."
While there have been some steps forward locally, such as fireworks no longer being set off this Australia Day, she said the "scourge of racism" still existed right across the world every single day - as highlighted through the Black Lives Matter protests this year and that there was still work to be done.
Young Bardi man, 18-year-old Jack Sampi, reflected on what January 26 meant to him.
He explained how January 26 marked the invasion and so he viewed the date as 'survival day' and the beginning of decades of suffering and hardship for Indigenous people.
"Although a somber day and for many a time of great hardship, it is important we acknowledge and recognise just how powerful we are as a people.
"Every day we set the record for the world's longest surviving civilisation and culture.
"Whether as big as someone finding in their family culture that they are Indigenous or as small as learning new words from different mobs, that's our culture not just surviving but thriving in a society built on a foundation that wanted to see us fail.
"If that does not highlight how strong we are as a people, then I don't know what will."
While professing love for his country and adding that he thought it should be celebrated, he said he strongly believed the date should be changed.
"We can't truly celebrate the land on which we gather and live our lives until it is celebrated in unity."
The event concluded with a smoking ceremony.
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