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‘It’s Australia Day, We Speak English’: Aboriginal Artist ‘Abused for Speaking an Indigenous Dialect to Her Daughter’

An Aboriginal woman says she was the victim of a racist attack on Australia Day when a stranger yelled ‘speak English in Australia’ after she spoke to her toddler in an indigenous dialect.

Artist and nurse Elizabeth Close was running errands at an Adelaide suburban shopping centre with her two-year-old daughter on Australia Day morning when her little girl ran off.

‘I called her back, speaking to her, as I often do, in our native Pitjantjatjara language. “Awa! Ngala pitja! Pitja!!! Wanti! (Hey! Come here! Come! Stop!),’ Ms Close wrote in a blog about the alleged incident on Tuesday.

‘A 20-something woman with Australian-flag novelty leggings yelled at me: It’s Australia Day! We speak English in Australia!!”

The mother-of-two says she was instantly hurt by the harsh statement from the stranger, which left her in tears. She is proud of her heritage, identifying as Anangu and a Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara woman from the APY lands in Central Australia.

‘I was aghast. I thought surely she must be joking. I’ve read stories of things like this on the internet but surely it doesn’t happen in real life,’ she wrote.

Ms Close says she responded with “Pardon me?” and the young woman retorted: “It’s AUS-STRAYA-DAY. WE SPEAK ENG-LISH”.

‘She (was) speaking slowly as to ensure comprehension because obviously I’m either intellectually disabled or stupid,’ wrote Ms Close.

‘I’m speaking my native Australian Aboriginal language. It’s Pitjantjatjara? I couldn’t get more Australian!!’ Ms Close told the stranger, who ‘stared blankly’ before walking off.

Pitjantjatjara is a dialect which has been spoken in Australia for tens of thousands of years before English settlement.

Ms Close says she was so upset by the altercation her eyes immediately welled up with tears.

However, she insists she does not feel upset for herself but rather what it means for her children’s future and the country they, and other Indigenous people, will grow up in.

For Ms Close, Australian Day is a day of mourning and on January 26 each year she feels as though Australians are celebrating the ‘dispossession, oppression and genocide of her people with tacky singlets, BBQs and singlets.

She believes the date of Australia Day should change as a symbolic gesture to recognise the hurt and suffering of the Aboriginal people.

‘One I personally like is moving it back to the 25th of January – but one day – a symbolic gesture that captures the last day that we and we alone were the custodians of this great land,’ she wrote in her blog post.

‘Until we stop holding BBQ’s in the name of genocide, we can’t move forward. We can’t join hands as a nation.’

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