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Always Was. Always Will Be. Pride, Protest and A Way Forward by Mark Yettica-Paulson.

Always Was, Always Will Be.

Pride, Protest and a Way Forward

The 2020 NAIDOC theme Always Was, Always Will Be is one part of a two-part saying that refers to the foundational issue of land. Today I want to share with you some thoughts on how we can make sense of this theme and see it as an invitation to shape our future collaborations for Australia. It is a platform for us to find a way forward together.

More than a saying

Always Was, Always Will Be is one part of a two-part saying.

The other part of this saying either comes before it or after it, and it goes a little something like this…

This Land is Aboriginal Land…Always Was Always Will Be


Alway Was Always Will Be Aboriginal Land

The 2020 NAIDOC theme can be interpreted and treated like a saying, similar to how we hold a number of popular sayings in English. For example, if you asked the internet for “most common sayings in English”, you would probably find examples like these;

  • Better late than never,
  • When the going gets tough, the tough get going,
  • Birds of a feather flock together.

Each one of these sayings has their own history, grain of truth and wisdom as English language proverbs. They have spoken to generations before us and will probably be relevant for generations to come. These sayings survive in our everyday culture because we use them, we accept them and we understand them. They are easy to digest and communicate.

You might even be able to get away with just saying part of it and others around you know how it ends and what it means. For example, “You know what they say, don’t you? Birds of a feather…” (And all our fellow Aussies know how it ends and what it means…flock together)

Equally, the 2020 NAIDOC theme can be interpreted and treated like a saying that we can make popular in Australian English. We can express it as a grain of truth, with its own history and wisdom. For example: “You know the saying? Always Was…” (And all our fellow Aussies know how it ends and what it means…Always Will Be, Aboriginal Land.)

More than a slogan

Always Was Always Will Be has been used as a slogan to express a powerful positive assertion by First Nations people. Simply put, the powerful positive assertion is that this land Always Was and Always Will Be the land of First Nations people.

Before we explore what this might mean for our everyday life and our collaborations for the future, let’s take a look at how this phrase is used to express political statements, protest rally cries and pride banners for First Nations.

  • Political statement – Always Was Always Will Be is a political statement that asserts the First Nations enduring relationship with land and challenges the European authority to legitimise claim over it. The political nature is both formal, with respect to the formal structures of Australian governments, and informal, with regard to the big Australian stories that are told about how Cook claimed the land for England. This political statement that the land Always Was Always Will Be Aboriginal land, represents a real challenge for us as Australians, because we have to come to a shared understanding about the big Australian stories and wrestle with what we are going to do together about the implications of this reality.
  • Protest Rally Cry – Always Was Always Will Be is a protest rally cry that consolidates passionate resistance into a “mic drop moment” for Australians to “deal with it”. It is clear and deliberately unapologetic and undiluted. It is not intended to be delicate and inviting. It is a powerful positive assertion that this land remains the land of the First Nations. As a protest rally cry, Always Was Always Will Be, brings together passionate positions together under a foundational assertion of First Nations – this is our land.
  • Pride Banner – Always Was Always Will Be is a pride banner that allows First Nations to feel a deeper and stronger sense of belonging to land and to each other. It evokes pride and celebrates the fact that First Nations people can access a knowledge and understanding that can bring peace and belonging to the land. As First Nations and our supporters we know that no matter what has occurred over generations on this land, we have a deep knowledge that this Always Was and Always Will Be Aboriginal Land.

More than a sentiment

A sentiment is a feeling or opinion. If the 2020 NAIDOC theme, Always Was, Always Will Be is interpreted and treated as a sentiment it could be relegated to a feeling or opinion and potentially dismissed as warm, fuzzy feelings. It is more than a sentiment.

Nice Idea – Alway Was, Always Will Be might be interpreted as a “nice idea” that is impractical and unworkable in modern Australia. It could be treated as a notion too far removed from reality to be taken seriously. This dismissive position has a deeper sentiment beneath the surface. It can be expressed as, “Might have once been Aboriginal land, but the inevitable course of history has changed ownership and therefore can no longer be.” You’ve probably heard interpretations of this.

Nostalgia – treats the 2020 NAIDOC theme Always Was, Always Will Be as a comforting memory from a by-gone era. This sentiment would agree with the above mentioned sentiment of ‘Nice Idea, but unworkable’, but takes it a step further. The nostalgia sentiment relegates First Nations sovereignty and authority over their dominions as a past reality with no current consequence. Nostalgia can also extend to deny First Nations their claim to actual land rights at all. It might expressed as, “Once might have been lands occupied by Aboriginal people, but due to no obvious land use, was claimed by the British and the rest is history”

Noble Ideal – as a sentiment would adopt the 2020 NAIDOC theme as a factual statement and focus on how we make the changes necessary to create the future together. This sentiment takes seriously the idea Alway Was, Always Will Be means that we have to work together on agreements for the implications of that reality. In the same manner that we might need to re-think the way we create energy, use natural resources and build economies, we will need to incorporate Always Was, Always Will Be in our reality. In the same manner that we might need to re-imagine gender roles, work on social cohesion, address ways to hold disagreements in politics and share power to improve lives of the most marginalised in our communities, we will need to do the good, but hard work of incorporating Always Was, Always Will Be as platform to change for the future.

The 2020 NAIDOC theme, Always Was, Always Will Be doesn’t belong in the past and is more than just a political statement or empty saying. It is an ideal for us to be inspired to address past injustices that we have all inherited, face the current challenges with a shared understanding of reality and create innovative ways forward for future generations.