Guest Post: Australia Day

Hey guys! Guest post time again! Unfortunately Eleanor was unable to guest post today, so today’s addition to the series comes from my dear friend Sophie! Soph and I met on Tumblr, of all places (although we do have a mutual “real life” friend too, haha), and she’s just such a lovely gal. Together we’ve shared many a One Direction-related fangirl moment  (“I mean, it’d be rude of me to not go to the One Direction store, right?” “Exactly, I mean, the boys would be terribly offended if you didn’t!”) , made dream film casts for one of our favourite books and generally just gotten along really well! You can follow Sophie’s amazing Tumblr here. I realise that the topic of this post is a little out of alignment with the current calendar, but it’s still an important issue so I wanted to share it on the blog. Read on! :)

Let’s take a moment to consider some of our country’s most significant dates. May 9th is the date on which the Australian Parliament first met, in Melbourne in 1901, the date Parliament first met in Canberra, in 1927, and the date the new Parliament House opened, in 1988. July 5, 1900, is the day on which the House of Commons passed the Constitution Act, giving effect to Federation. January 1st, 1901 is the date that marks the beginning of the federated nation. May 27th, 1967, is the date of the referendum that allowed indigenous Australians full citizenship rights. February 13, is the date of the apology to the ‘stolen generations’ of the indigenous Australian community by former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. January 26th is a day that celebrates, not only the British colonization of Australia, but the invasion of the country; representing the decimation of the indigenous Australian community. Oh, and it’s Australia’s national day, too.

January 26th, for people of indigenous Australian descent, is not a day to celebrate. For them, it symbolises not just a day, but years of trauma. It represents the invasion of their land and the oppression that followed. The celebrations held on January 26th are an annual reminder of the events ensuing the arrival of the First Fleet. Of the theft of the land that was once theirs to share, of the massacres of the indigenous Australian people. Of the British immigrants marching the Indigenous Australian people off cliffs in South-Western Victoria, of the poisoning of waterholes, and of the starvation due to the theft of hunting land. Of the taking of children, and of the attempted genocide of indigenous Australians. While it may not be celebrated by the majority of Australians with this in mind, it’s clear that many aboriginal Australians would prefer a more appropriate, considerate date on which to celebrate our country. A date worthy of celebrating, for all Australians. Yet people don’t seem to agree, or understand the significance a date change would hold. 2009’s Australian of the Year, Mick Dodson, raised the issue upon receiving his award, but his suggestion was rejected by many, including the prime minister at the time, Kevin Rudd. Rudd stated in response: “Let me say a simple, respectful, but straightforward no.”, his spokesman later saying “Australia Day is an inclusive day, celebrating the identity and achievements of all Australians.” Malcolm Turnbull backed Rudd in his response to Mick Dodson’s suggestion, stating in an interview that “People have been arguing this for a very long time. Mick Dodson is nowhere near the first. I think Australia day, and I’m sure most Australians agree, is very appropriate today.” But clearly Mick Dodson does not consider the date appropriate. And nor do the people who, according to Malcolm Turnbull, have been ‘arguing this for a very long time.’ Both Turnbull and Rudd fail to realise or acknowledge that members of the Indigenous Australian community DO feel excluded and even tormented by the celebrations being held on the date. They fail to realise that it is an important issue and something that does affect numerous Australians and the way they view the country’s national day. The change of the date, I believe, is vital for the reconciliation of our country. Although attempts have been made towards better relationships between the indigenous Australian community and the communities of other Australians, it appears that they have not been enough to result in adequate change. Kevin Rudd’s ‘Sorry Day’, was an excellent initiative, however it made little change to the lives of Indigenous Australians, and their perception of their community’s inclusion and acceptance in this country. This is evident through the recent protests held in Canberra on Australia day and the push to retain the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra. What reconciliation requires is more; not just an apology, but a change of attitudes and behaviours. And this can only be done gradually: small steps and actions towards a greater purpose. Although the change of the date of Australia day, would too be symbolic, it would be another step, further acknowledging the past, and the fact that aspects of it are not to be celebrated.

There is also the not so small matter to consider of the purpose of a national day. Most countries celebrate their country’s day on the date of their independence, but not Australia. Isn’t January 26th celebrating the British colonization of Australia? Is that not contradicting the whole idea of a country’s day? Celebrating not their INdependence, but their DEpendence on England. Some may argue that Australia is not fully independent until we no longer have a British monarch serving as our head of state. However, in a legal sense, Australia is a fully independent nation, and should be celebrated as such. Not to mention the fact that the first of those to migrate to Australia were hardly people to invest our national pride in. Robert Humphris, in a letter published in The Age, stated “We should change the date of Australia Day, not because it represents the invasion of a nation of indigenous Australians, but because the arrival of a downtrodden group of English convicts and their less-than-noteworthy guards at Botany Bay does not represent the birth of a nation. It is only memorable to their descendants. We want to celebrate our beginnings as a proud and independent nation.” Another date, with this in mind, is certainly called for. In fact, there are numerous dates more suitable, such as the date on which the Constitution Act was passed, the date that marks the beginning of federation, or the date on which the Australian parliament first met. These are dates that actually celebrate our nation, and significant moments in its development. Moments to take pride in.

The date of Australia day also seems insignificant to immigrants. Yes, the citizenship ceremonies are held on Australia Day, and that does make the date a bit more special for them. However, this is only because of the ceremony – not due to any real connection with the date and what it represents. As mentioned before, the day essentially commemorates the British colonization of the country – which means nothing to the newcomers of Australia, or anyone, in fact, who is not closely associated with Britain. Would it not be better for the citizenship ceremonies, and Australia Day, to be held on a date more significant to immigrants? A date more inclusive, of all Australian citizens. Surely February 16th, the date of the launch of ‘The People of Australia’, Australia’s multicultural policy, or a similar date, would be more fitting. The policy states it ‘embraces our shared values and cultural traditions.. and allows those who choose to call Australia home, the right to practise and share in their cultural traditions and languages within the law and free from discrimination.’ This is something that has significance, for everyone. Don’t we all appreciate a chance to practice and share our own traditions, and embrace our values?

It isn’t even as if the date is one of great and old tradition. In fact, January 26th was not celebrated consistently as a public holiday, under the name of Australia Day, until 1994. Prior to that, January 26th was celebrated as ‘First Landing Day’, and Australia Day was celebrated on the 30th of July. This demonstrates the lack of positive significance the actual date holds.

So why not change the date of Australia Day to something a little more relevant, a little more inclusive? For when our nation obtains complete equality, inclusion, and a sense of pride in our country and its development as a federated nation, is when it becomes a nation worth celebrating.

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