Abandon Australia Day and choose the history we want to celebrate?

Australia Day is the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet in Australia. On 26 January 1788, 11 convict ships from Great Britain landed at Port Jackson in New South Wales. Governor Arthur Phillip raised the British flag to signal the beginning of the British Colony.

The day has had a number of names through the years: Anniversary Day, First Landing Day and Foundation Day. All of these, in my opinion, are more fitting names.

It somehow evolved into Australia Day and other states and territories adopted the name in 1935.

The celebrations originally focused on the British occupation of New South Wales but, in 1979, the federal government started promoting Australia Day as a time to celebrate Australia and Australians as a whole; with the aim of unifying Australia’s increasingly diverse population.

However, for many Indigenous Australians, it isn’t a day for celebrating. Many Indigenous people see 26 January as the beginning of the loss of their land, destruction of culture, violence, separation of families and many darker things.

This is why some refer to 26 January by other names such as Invasion Day, Day of Mourning or Survival Day and campaign to get the date changed.

Now I know what you’re thinking, we have this conversation every year and we can’t change history. But shouldn’t the fact that it crops up time and time again be a huge flag that something just might need to be done about it?

Australia Day became a national public holiday only in 1994 and events across the world in 2020 have shown us it’s not too late to choose the history that we want to celebrate.

Take the destruction of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, England, for example.

This was a man who made his money from buying and selling people.

The residents of Bristol had called for many years for the statue to be removed, yet nothing was done about it. On 7 June 2020 they took things into their own hands, the statue was torn down and rolled into the harbour.

Now, the statue has been collected and put on display in a local museum called M Shed which highlights, among other things, Bristol’s substantial role in the slave trade. The statue and information about it can still be seen, the history is still there to be read about but people who don’t want to remember him don’t have to walk past his statue every day.

I feel that Australia Day could follow the same path. According to the National Australia Day Council, it’s “the day to reflect on what we have achieved and what we can be proud of in our great nation. It’s the day for us to re-commit to making Australia an even better place for the future.”

If we celebrate Australia Day on a date that has no negative implications, then surely that would be unifying more Australians than ever.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison got unity off the mark in 2021 when he announced a change to a word in Advance Australia Fair more than 140 years after it was first composed and performed.

From 1 January, the second line changed from, “For we are young and free” to “For we are one and free”.

Mr Morrison said in a statement that the change was being made for all Australians.

“During the past year we have showed once again the indomitable spirit of Australians and the united effort that has always enabled us to prevail as a nation. It is time to ensure this great unity is reflected more fully in our national anthem.

“Also, while Australia as a modern nation may be relatively young, our country’s story is ancient, as are the stories of the many First Nations peoples whose stewardship we rightly acknowledge and respect.”

I asked YourLifeChoices members for their thoughts on the timing and direction of current Australia Day ‘celebrations’.

Some said they were for changing the date to accurately reflect history.

Gordon: “We have to get our historical facts right. Jan 26 is foundation day for the colony of NSW. Australia as an entity didn’t exist until 1/1/1901. Australia Act of March 3, 1986, formally split any legal ties to the UK. Confirming Australia’s independent legal status. I do think it is time to find a date which unites all the people to celebrates Australia culture, values and recognize our accomplishments and things we still have to address so achieve a better unity.”

Geoff: “Celebrate Australia Day but change the date. Best time – when we become a republic.”

Graham: “Australia’s Day is the 1st January – the Day when in 1901 the first Governor-General Proclaimed the Act of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia.”

Stephen: “The day only celebrates white Australia history. You can’t have inclusiveness if you don’t have acknowledgment. In the absence of these things, then I would consider Australia Day, as it stands, is inherently racist.”

Many were adamant that we shouldn’t change

Wayne: “Leave it alone, stop pandering to every person or group who want to change our history and traditions.”

Jean: “Leave the date as it is 26th January. We are one but we are many”

Scott: “We should be proud to celebrate this wonderful day.”

Roma: “Always was a proud Aussie, like Australia Day to be left as it is, no need to be changing everything all the time. Anthem should be put back how it was, any changes to these things should be done by vote, no more cloak and dagger deals. Nobody, not even Government should make these changes, get on and do what you are paid handsomely for.”

Helen: “Love, love, love it. If you don’t then maybe you are living in the wrong country. Australia Day is a day of celebration for EVERYONE!!”

Some thought there wasn’t much they could do.

Lucy: “Came here as a migrant. Therefore, I accept the laws made by its government. I am not in a position to make decisions about the First Peoples’ situation.”

Ken: “We should celebrate this great country every day.”

Ultimately, nobody is asking you to forget or change history, just recognise it in a different, more inclusive way.

What do you think? Do you understand the reasons behind people wanting to change the date?

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Written by Ellie Baxter


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