We should celebrate Australia Day, just not on January 26
By Ben Pobjie
Posted August 19, 2017 06:02:20
It's understandable that some Australians' backs are put up by the suggestion that by celebrating Australia Day on January 26, they are celebrating invasion, dispossession and genocide.
These Australians will think, that's not what Australia Day means to me, and so they'll resist the call to change the date.
And I agree with them: Australia Day isn't a celebration of the shameful mistreatment of the country's Aboriginal people.
That's exactly why we need to change the date — not because it's celebrating invasion, but because it isn't.
Despite my own deep-seated suspicion of patriotism in general, I quite like Australia Day.
Given how much of my time is spent lamenting this country's many flaws, it's not a bad thing, in my opinion, to also spend a bit of time appreciating its virtues.
In a world of strife and violence, we live in a peaceful country, a prosperous country, a country well-stocked with good, decent people who want to progress toward a better future rather than retreat to a grimmer past.
And the weather is pretty good too.
These are the things we celebrate on Australia Day, right? The success of our nation, the achievements of its people.
Good for the national soul
No country is without its demons, and no country should be afraid to grapple with them, but there is something to be said for drawing strength from what is good about us, and a national day on which we can rejoice in that is good for the national soul.
This is especially so if we use it to spur our aspirations to improve at the same time. That's what Australia Day is to me — I wager I'm not alone there.
But if we agree Australia Day exists to celebrate all that is good about Australia, why do we insist it must be on a date that makes it so hard — or impossible — for so many of our compatriots to do that?
When our fellow Australians tell us that having Australia Day on January 26 inextricably associates the day with atrocity, why do we wish to maintain this tradition that shuts a big segment of Australia out of Australia's celebrations?
Yes, indeed, we do not celebrate invasion on Australia Day — so why on earth would we want it held on the invasion's anniversary?
Let's not pretend that we have any great attachment to January 26.
Even if you don't accept the terminology of invasion, the date marks the establishment of a penal colony and the arrival on the continent of a group of people who were mostly cursing the fortune that saw them cast up on the shores of this hellhole.
It wasn't a particularly joyous occasion in 1788, even for the colonists.
There was no country called Australia. The continent itself wasn't even called Australia yet. Certainly the arrival of Arthur Phillip at Sydney Cove was an important historical event, but it wasn't an Australian event.
There's other plenty of other dates to celebrate
There have been many great Australian events we could commemorate instead. Federation is the obvious one, our real Independence Day — if only our founding fathers hadn't been so short-sighted as to do it on New Year's Day!
The referendum of 1967 is another, as is the adoption of the Statute of Westminster Act 1942, when Australia officially became a "sovereign nation".
Or the Australia Act 1986, which formally ended any possibility of Britain being involved in Australian government.
Hell, the date of the first Test match in 1877 wouldn't be a bad one either — we did after all have a united national cricket team before we had a united national government.
One date I hope we can reject completely is May 8 — I know we like to portray ourselves as laidback, but let's not make the day a complete joke.
In the end, though, the actual date selected doesn't matter much (although we should probably put it in summer sometime, as it sucks to have a barbecue rained out).
It could be any day on which all Australians feel they can come together to celebrate their country.
That's the problem with the current date: all Australians don't feel they can do that on January 26.
Too much sorrow for some should matter to all
There's a divide there, caused by a date whose resonances carry too much sorrow for a real celebration.
Many Australians don't feel that sorrow. For many Australians Invasion Day doesn't have this meaning. I can understand that.
What I can't understand is why anyone would stubbornly cling to a date that has so little personal meaning to them, when they know the nature of the meaning it has for others.
I can't understand why Australians wanting to declare their love of country would insist they can only do that on a day that causes such hurt for their fellow Australians. I can't understand why anyone wants the revelry of Australia Day to be tainted by others' sadness.
Australia Day is not a celebration of dispossession. It is a celebration of all that is great about this nation.
When we change the date, we'll have one more thing to celebrate: a people who care more about extending consideration to their fellow citizens than they do about clinging pointlessly to an empty tradition.
Ben Pobjie is a writer and comedian. His book Aussie Aussie Aussie: Questionable Histories of Great Australians is out now through Affirm Press.
Topics:australia-day, race-relations, community-and-society, government-and-politics, australia, melbourne-3000
As another Australia Day approaches, our country’s past remains an uncomfortable subject. Australia Day is an opportunity to come together to reflect on our history, value our diversity and celebrate that we are all Australian. Unfortunately, this day is generally accompanied by a lack of awareness, conversations and understanding of what the day symbolises to Indigenous Australians.
January 26th is a historically contentious date and attracts criticisms for failing to encompass all Australians. This day marks the beginning of dispossession and discrimination that Indigenous Australians suffered. As a result, many Indigenous Australians recognise January 26th as a day of invasion. Invasion Day or Survival Day is a commemoration of the loss of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereign rights to land, loss of family, loss of the right to practice traditional culture.
Australia is the only nation in the world that celebrates its national day on the date which colonisation occurred. The events that occurred during the European colonisation of Australia should not be swept under the carpet. Mutual recognition and acknowledgement of what has happened in the past is essential to establishing a future that genuinely celebrates Australia – and ultimately the range of ways that people live as “an Australian”.
Professor Yin Paradies of Deakin University has noted in his research Indigenous Australians constitute approximately 2.4% of the Australian population and suffer from disadvantage across a range of social, economic and health indicators compared to other Australians; including exposure to racism across all domains of contemporary Australian society. These are ongoing issues that have stemmed from the policies and practices originating from early settlement. It must be remembered that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations had change forced upon them with the coming of European laws, values and social constructs.
What should Australia Day be about?
Ideally, the future may hold an opportunity to forge a new national day. For that to happen we should utilise this day to engage in debate on issues of national identity and values. Australia Day offers genuine opportunities to celebrate our achievements and ALL that makes our country what it is today. Australia Day should always be a reflection on how to progress and build as a nation. This only occurs through acknowledgement of the past and celebration of its changes and achievements. Here are some actions and discussions you can engage in on Australia Day:
- Supporting the RECOGNISE campaign – this movement aims to achieve fairness and respect at the heart of our Constitution, and to remove discrimination from it. This is a chance for Australians to acknowledge the first chapter of our national story, and to forge our future together – after so many chapters apart. http://www.recognise.org.au
- Acknowledging and increasing awareness of discrimination towards Indigenous Australians – education is one of the best ways of preventing racism http://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/people/racism-in-aboriginal-australia#top
- Acknowledging Indigenous contributions to building the Australian Nation including the celebration of Indigenous recipients of the Australian of the Year Award such as Adam Goodes, Lionel Rose and Mick Dodson.
- Encouraging debate around recognising 1901 Federation as an alternate Australia Day.
- Participating in a minute of silence for the Indigenous Australians who lost their lives and lands due to the British invasion of Australia.
What are some other ways we can acknowledge this day?