How could we solve the Australia Day argument?

Genevieve Jacobs 28 January 2019 82

Arabunna elder Reginald Dodd is the SA Senior Australian of the Year. Photo: D Jukic.

The debate about when we mark Australia Day is increasingly characterised by resentment, anger and misunderstanding on all sides. It’s not surprising. January 26, 1788 was a major transition point in our national history. But should the date mark the birth of modern Australia, the day the invasion began, or something more complicated somewhere in the middle?

Amid all the Australia Day hoopla, a much smaller and quieter event is tucked into the calendar. On Friday morning, early, I sat with people from Lake Eyre and Arnhem Land, from Darwin and Melbourne at a Reconciliation Australia breakfast. Among them were the eight indigenous Australian of the Year nominees.

Reginald Dodd from Arabunna country in South Australia, who worked his way through native title legislation with the help of a Roget’s Thesaurus and co-authored a law course with RMIT was there. Maningrida-born Danzal Baker, or Baker Boy, whose rap music brought Yolgnu Matha language to a national audience. And AFL legend Michael Long, whose Long Walk from Melbourne to Canberra dramatised the reality of racism and the need for action.

These are outstanding, hardworking Australians. And many Aboriginal people like them are not at all happy about Australia Day and the way we now celebrate it in a flag-waving, lamb-barbecuing, green-and-gold frenzy of patriotism. Aboriginal Australians have strong reasons for feeling that when the white sails loomed over the horizon in 1788, two centuries of dispossession, pain, disease and death also began.

I don’t recall Australia Day being such a big deal 40 years ago or more (the Australian flag’s design wasn’t even finally settled until 1953). I am very wary of throwing a cloak of unquestioning nationalistic fervour over every question about our identity and labelling dissenters as un-Australian. That’s childish, jingoistic nonsense. For a large chunk of our colonial history, many thought of themselves as citizens of the Empire first and foremost, not Australians.

But, but, but…..what other date is there? Isn’t it indisputable that the Australia we know now also began on January 26? That there’s no going back from that first permanent European settlement and everything, good and bad, that flowed from it?

So is there a third way, a middle course? Instead of expecting Aboriginal Australians to simply fall in and celebrate the 26th, I wonder whether we should begin instead on January 25 with a national twilight ceremony that recognises the deep significance of Aboriginal culture.

Such a ceremony would be attended by the national leaders, but led by the Aboriginal community. In celebrating indigenous Australia, it would also focus on the reality of dispossession and the resilience of survival. We would begin our national holiday with a more profound examination of our history than re-enacting the First Fleet’s arrival.

In 2018, I was co-chair, with former ACT politician and Gamilaroi man Chris Bourke, of the advisory committee for the ACT’s inaugural Reconciliation Day public holiday. We learned a lot.

The biggest lesson for me personally was understanding that some Australians are deeply invested in reconciliation, and some are opposed to the process. In the middle, there are vast numbers of ordinary Australians who haven’t really thought about it. They don’t know any Aboriginal people, aren’t connected with reconciliation and may feel uncomfortable or poorly informed.

Our ACT holiday gave many people the chance to have those conversations in their families, with their friends and communities. A national ceremony of recognition might achieve the same goal.

I believe we urgently need a way to open up the reconciliation conversation for all Australians. It’s not up to Aboriginal Australia to take responsibility for it. We’re all in this together because we are all Australians. Can we all grow up enough to mark our national day with sensitivity, nuance and good will? Surely, there is a way to make that happen?

What changes do you think we need to make to Australia Day?


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82 Responses to How could we solve the Australia Day argument?
Deputy Commissioner Commissioner Deputy Commissioner Commissioner 5:39 am 02 Feb 19

If it is a simple date mistake which it is, then change the buckskin bloody thing. It is not going to give racists any higher pedestals to stand on which should be a good thing, get over it.

Maelinar Maelinar 5:01 pm 01 Feb 19

Australia day is a notional date that is taken to represent when ‘Australia’ was formed. Its got nothing to do with Indigenous culture, other than the obvious slight that the benefit of ‘Australia’ was at the detriment of their own sovereignty.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then but its become clear that the politics of division are still rampant – those who wish to divide Australians are doing it on the basis of these historical events.

Change the date if we must, but its time that we start all getting on the same bandwagon and proceed as Australians, not Indigenous Australians and the Rest of Australians.

At 30 June 2015, nearly 30% of Australians were born overseas. That’s 1/3 of our country who don’t even have skin in the game.

Grimm Grimm 1:16 pm 01 Feb 19

We can solve the issue by realising that nothing will appease the whiners and professional victims, and we just ignore them.

Australia day is on the 26th of January. That is where it should remain. The world was formed around conquest and settlement. Get over it. Think it lucky the place wasn’t discovered and settled by the Spanish or Portugese. Ask the Inca and Mayans how that would have worked… Oh, wait, you can’t because they were enslaved and basically exterminated.

This is how it is. Quit your whining and expecting nonsensical, pointless treaties and date moves, and concentrate on doing things to actually improve your life. Moving Australia day won’t change the past. Deal with it.

MERC600 MERC600 1:10 pm 01 Feb 19

Blen Carmichual … and others… are right in saying it won’t matter what day Australia Day is gazetted, activists will continue to target it. Perhaps after here they could do some invader targeting elsewhere.
Perhaps Alaska, Canada, the US and then Mexico. Then move south ( for the winter ). There’s a host of settled / invaded countries you can demonstrate in. Lots of small joints . And then Panama, there you could have a squiz at the canal.

Then onto the bigger invaded countries like Columbia, Venezuela, and one we all know through our Senator Kate Gallagher , Ecuador. Then Brazil and Chile and Argentina and a few others. Peru would need a protest, then you could wander off to look at Machu Picchu.

Then slip across to Cuba to protest, but I’m thinkin’ probably best not to. And another place not to protest too much would be the invasion by the slaves against the Carib Indians in what we call the Caribbean. The slaves were of course in shackles and chains
( sound familiar ) and I would suggest if you were to call one of there ancestors today an invader, you might find a cricket bat lodged in a painful place. Happy travels.

astro2 astro2 10:06 pm 29 Jan 19

A suitable date would be the date Australia becomes a republic if a successful referendum can be achieved. This date, say in September, (no other conflicting public holidays and the start of spring being symbolic) shouldn’t have too many objections from either side of politics. It would be a no-brainer to move Australia Day to the day we become a republic – the sooner the better.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:59 am 01 Feb 19

    So, if the republic is introduced on 26th January everyone will be happy?

Blen_Carmichael Blen_Carmichael 2:00 pm 29 Jan 19

I’m surprised so many people think a mere changing of the date is the answer. If it were as simple as that I’d be in favour. The reality is this is just one more demand in a string of grievances by activists, some of whom include indigenous people. Their aim is not to bring about reconciliation but to perpetuate white guilt. Misery means money and status for the professional victim.

    astro2 astro2 8:26 pm 01 Feb 19

    Blen, who actually said that a “mere changing of the date is the answer”? I haven’t hear anyone say that so would appreciate if you could supply a quote. Otherwise, this may be just something you are reading into the situation without anything to back up your argument.

Grail Grail 10:31 am 29 Jan 19

First, ask the Aboriginal people what they want.

Second, listen to their answers rather than trying to reframe heir words into your cultural context.

Third, accept that there is no single opinion because each group has their own experience to share.

White people talking to white people is only going to produce answers that white people are comfortable with.

As for what the Aborigines want, check out the Uluru Statement From the Heart. It’s only a couple of pages, easy to read in your tea break. Understanding it will take longer, possibly a lifetime.

Rollersk8r Rollersk8r 10:12 am 29 Jan 19

Inequality and disadvantage certainly exists, regardless of the date. Go right ahead and change the date – but unfortunately these problems are not going to be solved any time soon.

PS. I saw several people on social media saying they would not be celebrating Australia Day. Interested to know how you didn’t celebrate? I had a nice day at home, just like any other public holiday, so not sure whether I celebrated or not??

Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:25 am 29 Jan 19

Margaret Freemantle suggests that full-bloods were “slaughtered in their thousands”.
This only happened before the British established colonies here.

Kate Olivieri Kate Olivieri 8:55 pm 28 Jan 19

Leah another good article

Laurie Byron Laurie Byron 7:00 pm 28 Jan 19

Well date of Australian Federation will never work! Would mean we lose the new years day public holiday.

    Kate Olivieri Kate Olivieri 8:55 pm 28 Jan 19

    Laurie Byron yeah, the 1st of January is never going to happen

    Peter Campbell Peter Campbell 5:46 pm 31 Jan 19

    So long as there is some other compensating public holiday announced so nobody misses out on their current quota of public holidays then 1st Jan, the anniversary of federation, might be a goer. It is obviously more relevant to modern Australia than the anniversary of the founding on the colony of NSW. I am surprised other states don't object to celebrating NSW.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 6:45 pm 28 Jan 19

Historians have really bungled naming the 26th January as Australia Day as the credit for naming the colony as New South Wales by Cook in 1770 was still recognised by Phillip when he arrived with the first fleet at Botany Bay in 1788.

It was not until some 20 years later when Flinders mapped the continent generally known as New Holland that he (Flinders) recommended it be re-named Australia.

Mary Egerton Mary Egerton 5:51 pm 28 Jan 19

When we address the false concept of terra nullius... we maybe able to think about Australia day

Mary Egerton Mary Egerton 5:49 pm 28 Jan 19

26th january is first fleet day.. when we addr

Randy Goldberg Randy Goldberg 4:56 pm 28 Jan 19

Australia became a Federation on 1 January 1901 so let's move Australia Day to then and celebrate "Federation Day".

Also, if so many people fight to keep the Australia Day holiday on the 26th, why are we "celebrating" it on the 28th?

    Dan Rayner Dan Rayner 6:52 pm 28 Jan 19

    Randy Goldberg I have no problems with Jan 28.

    Can you ask everyone else?

    Kate Olivieri Kate Olivieri 8:54 pm 28 Jan 19

    1st January is never going to happen. 1. It’s already a public holiday with its own traditions. 2. It takes weeks and months of organizing Australia Day events, particularly the week beforehand. It’s not reasonable or realistic to expect community groups and government to work through what is generally a shutdown week and one of the busiest months of the year

Spiral Spiral 2:35 pm 28 Jan 19

As well as the “Change the Date” calls, I see there seems to be increasing (or perhaps just more media attention to) calls to abolish the whole idea of Australia Day.

It seems clear that no date that has any connection to white culture will be acceptable.

And what are we supposed to think of the “Always was Aboriginal Land. Always will be Aboriginal Land” activists? They seem to want all land handed back to them.

That will not happen.

Thus we have to draw a line somewhere.

Leave Australia Day where it is and create an Indigenous day.

    madelini madelini 1:44 pm 01 Feb 19

    This seems like a willful misunderstanding of the discourse.

    It’s not that “no date that has any connection to white culture will be acceptable”, it’s that celebrating the European settlement is actively disregarding the impact that action had on the Indigenous population, the ramifications of which are still being felt today. White people need to recognise that in celebrating this particular day, they are also celebrating the pain, crimes and actions that resulted from it.

    The “Always was, always will be Aboriginal land” phrase is an acknowledgement of the civilisation in this country that predated any European settlement. Aboriginal culture is the longest continuous and surviving culture in the history of humanity.

    I am a white Australian. My family was brought out as convicts. I am ashamed of Australia’s colonial past and I am truly sorry to the Indigenous population for the hurts they have suffered. I can’t knowingly celebrate January 26 in the same way that I cannot celebrate April 25. Pain, even pain which I have not experienced, does not feel like something worth celebrating.

Ray Ez Ray Ez 2:04 pm 28 Jan 19

Ignore the snowflakes that admit even if the date is changed, they still won be happy. Move on and look to the future.

Marg Christensen Marg Christensen 12:00 pm 28 Jan 19

There’s more to that quote Daniel: The sins (ie, wrongs that disconnect us from God) of the fathers revisit their children and their children’s children’ until we seek healing (ie, reconnection with God)

Barton West Barton West 11:21 am 28 Jan 19

Nope. No more pandering. 2019 can be the year we say enough.

Tracy Hancock Tracy Hancock 10:55 am 28 Jan 19

Except that the first ships of the first fleet arrived on the 18th of January, with the final ships arriving on the 20th. The 26th is symbolic in terms of establishing the first colony, but the English had already “invaded” 8 days before that. So, I’m confused as to exactly what the symbolism of the 25th is supposed to be? I’m also confused why the 26th is called “invasion day”, given they had already been here for more than a week??

    Kytie Mclign Kytie Mclign 1:12 pm 28 Jan 19

    Tracy Hancock On Jan 26, we are marking the day a colony was established - and not even a nation; just New South Wales. Until the colony was established, no one was presuming to disregard the existence of traditional owners, and the British ships could have been just like the many trading and exploratory ships that are known to have visited Australia without presuming to take it over.

    Tracy Hancock Tracy Hancock 1:42 pm 28 Jan 19

    That’s not quite right when you say “no one”. The English knew they weren’t coming to explore or trade. They had ships full of convicts to transport and had been given instructions to establish a colony. They arrived with the intent to do that on the 18th of January. I could see why THAT date might therefore be known as “invasion day”, although as I understand it, invasion vs settlement might produce some problems in terms of continuing native title, but that’s well out of my scope and nothing to do with any particular “date”.

    Tracy Hancock Tracy Hancock 2:06 pm 28 Jan 19

    Dave Ferymtok Ward I consider myself a lefty although perhaps not “extreme”. I think it’s really sad that we can’t have a discussion around this without name calling. My daughter is of Aboriginal descent on her fathers side, and descended from convicts from the second fleet on my side. She is now 13 years old and supports keeping the date as the 26th as a coming together of 2 great cultures who, if they had not come together, would mean she would have never been born. Over the last few days she has expressed her views to keep the date and been called “racist” (apparently racist against...her own self??) for having that opinion. Among both white and indigenous communities, there are some who support a change, some who don’t want to change, and some who don’t care either way. What I really can’t stand is white people telling indigenous people what they should or should not be upset about, including my daughter expressing her support to keep the date. Apparently her opinion is not valid because it’s not what people want to hear. It’s a shame it can’t be a simple and polite discussion 😞

    Kytie Mclign Kytie Mclign 2:12 pm 28 Jan 19

    Tracy Hancock Not really, Tracy. The date has been Jan 26 because that date is the day it was formalised by the invaders. If they wanted it to be Jan 18, we would be arguing about Jan 18. All anyone has to do is accept that Jan 26 is not a unifying one ... and national days the world over are supposed to bring people together (also, they usually celebrate independence, not colonisation).

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 5:14 pm 28 Jan 19

    Tracy Hancock Tracey the 26th is the date they setup camp in Sydney Cove.

    You are right they arrived a week earlier in Botany Bay, but didn’t like it so moved on. So does make it even stranger to choose the 26th.

    Me personally if we want a date to celebrate Australia as a nation then 26th Jan isn’t it. That to me is the date NSW was established. It wasn’t until Federation on 1st Jan that Australia as a nation came into being when the UK granted (semi) independence to the colonies of Australia.

    Tracy Hancock Tracy Hancock 7:51 pm 28 Jan 19

    Ashley Wright I’m not sure why you think it strange to choose the 26th?? It wasn’t the day of invasion (18th January), it was the day the first colony was established. While they established it in NSW, they did not have enough people to quickly and rapidly spread across the entire country. That took time and they had to start somewhere. In the meantime, they almost died in their efforts and those who arrived on the second fleet found a young colony on the brink of starvation. Nevertheless, they persisted. Prior to Federation the colonies in different states operated independently, then from Federation, came together as the commonwealth of Australia under a federal government. Although I don’t agree with you, I respect your opinion. To me, the establishment of the first colony was the first step toward building our country into what it is today. That’s why the 26th has meaning. Regardless of if the date is changed or not, a certain amount of people will be upset by the decision. The 26th of January means SOMETHING to a lot of people, either something to celebrate or not. Clearly shows the date is significant.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 6:01 am 29 Jan 19

    So as you rightly point out before federation that colonies operated independently of each other. So to a place like Victoria what meaning is there in 26th Jan. That was the foundation date of the colony of NSW, not Victoria or Australia.

    1st Jan is about the only date that has true meaning to all states and territories as the start of the nation of Australia.

    And funnily enough it wasn’t until 1994 that 26th Jan was recognised nation wide as Australia Day.

    Tracy Hancock Tracy Hancock 6:26 am 29 Jan 19

    Ashley Wright as I said, the date of January 26th is significant to many. It may be significant in terms of it being something to celebrate or not. However, to those who either love the date or oppose it, it clearly means something of historical significance to a great many people. Although I accept that it obviously doesn't personally mean something to you.

    Tracy Hancock Tracy Hancock 6:58 am 29 Jan 19

    Also, although 1994 was the year that the 26th was was officially declared the day of Australia day celebration, that blanket statement ignores the long history with the date. The 26th of January had been considered a day of celebration just 16 years after the first colony was established. in 1804 early almanacs, calendars and the Sydney Gazette referred to the 26th of January as "first landing day" or "Foundation day". In 1818 Governor Macquarie officially acknowledged the day as a public holiday for the 30th anniversary. In 1838 there was a proclamation of an annual public holiday on a Monday in observance of January 26. That year was also the 2nd anniversary of the celebratory Sydney regatta. In 1888 representatives from Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and New Zealand joined NSW leaders to celebrate 100 years. Although prior to this time it had often been thought of as a NSW celebration, this was the time it was fast becoming a day of national celebration. In 1930 (after federation) it was the Australian Natives Association in Victoria that started a campaign to have January 26 celebrated throughout the country as "Australia day". It was in that year that a public holiday was given to Australians on a Monday in recognition of the January 26 date. In 1946, the Australian natives association in Victoria began the formation of an Australia day celebration committee (which later became known as the the Australia day council). This was formed to educate the public regarding the significance of the date. In 1988, although Sydney continued to be the centre of celebration, the states and territories agreed to celebrate on January 26 rather than just on a long weekend. I actually remember attending events as a child for this one. Finally, in 1994 celebrating on January 26 became established. So, although the specific date of January 26 was not necessarily a day off until 1994, January 26 has been a date of observance, celebration and significance since 1804. The public holiday was simply put on a Monday for convenience rather than on whatever day the 26th fell. It was however, still a public holiday in observance for the 26th of January. It is not accurate to suggest that the 26th only started to be celebrated from 1994. The date had been recognised and celebrated since the first colony was only 16 years old.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 11:32 am 29 Jan 19

    Yeah foundation day is the date NSW was founded not Australia.

    And that’s what that date is all about. Australia as we know it came into being and became semi independent from the UK on 1st Jan 1901.

    So are we celebrating NSW day or Australia Day?

    Tracy Hancock Tracy Hancock 6:04 pm 29 Jan 19

    Australia Day. As you can see from the history above.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 6:07 pm 29 Jan 19

    NSW day as you demonstrated above.

    Tracy Hancock Tracy Hancock 6:14 pm 29 Jan 19

    It always makes me sad when people don’t want to read or take the time to understand their own country’s history. That is of course, your choice.

    Nayla Noffke Nayla Noffke 9:36 am 01 Feb 19

    Tracy Hancock you just totally owned that arguement!

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