19 January 2023

It's time to give Australia a brand new day

| Ian Bushnell
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Aretha Brown

Australia Day on 26 January is increasingly a day of division, not unity. Photo: Supplied.

I’ve never been keen on national holidays, apart from enjoying the day off when I could, and that was not always a given working in the media industry.

It’s the jingoism and flag-waving that’s crept in over the years that leaves me uneasy, particularly Anzac Day.

But at least with 25 April there remains a unifying theme around which most of us can bow our heads, without buying into the nationalistic palaver that some politicians want to peddle.

Australia Day on the other hand has always been not much more than a marker in the calendar for the end of the summer break and the start of the back-to-school prepping.

Even better if it occurs on a Monday or a Friday so we get the much-loved long weekend.

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As a child, I don’t remember the day being given much due although some in Sydney insisted on dressing up as Governor Phillip and NSW Corps troops to commemorate the founding of the penal colony, something that inevitably drew the indignant ire of the first inhabitants.

It was low-key but still part of a narrative that the advent of white settlement was a benign, seamless event that marked the birth of the nation.

Despite increasing focus on celebrating nationhood on the anniversary of the start of white settlement and wrapping it in the flag, the growing militancy of First Nations combined with greater knowledge about colonisation and its consequences have left many Australians to develop misgivings about Australia Day.

How do we mark a day that would prove disastrous for Indigenous peoples and have tragic ramifications that we are still coming to grips with?

The other factor is the huge number of migrants from non-British backgrounds, many of whom would find little to relate to in remembering the founding of an 18th-century penal colony.

Australia Day on 26 January is no longer, if it ever was, a unifying force for the nation, no matter how hard proponents and governments try to create celebratory and inclusive programs because the date and what it stands for gets in the way.

It doesn’t mean we ignore history, the British legacy or how the modern nation began. Indeed we should embrace the past more fully and consciously.

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We can and should have a national holiday on which we can give thanks for the blessings of this country and celebrate in ways of our own choosing, whether that be a party in the park or a barbecue in the backyard. But please no parades.

What that date could be is the challenge. Federation, again an event that was exclusively for white Australians, falls on New Year’s Day, so rule that out.

But it is not beyond the imagination of Australians to find a date that offers hope for us all instead of one that is so heavy with colonial baggage.

Just so long as it’s attached to a weekend.

This year Australians will vote in a referendum on giving First Nations recognition in the Constitution and a Voice to Parliament, something that offers a way forward for the nation to begin healing.

There are no illusions about it resolving the complex issues bequeathed to us, but it does present the opportunity for a fresh start.

Hopefully, voters will ignore Peter Dutton’s opportunistic spoiling and embrace the chance for progress.

The Voice could go hand in hand with a new date for a national holiday to bring us all into the same tent. At least for a day.

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But my family does not linger in the past, constantly focussing on history as being the cause of our “lot”. Instead, we are focussed on the possibilities for the future while acknowledging, but not lamenting, the past and celebrating all of the great features, achievements, qualities, and potential of our wonderful Nation. This is what Australia Day represents to us, whether it be 26 January or any other date.

Change the date if the majority so choose. However, changing the date of Australia Day won’t make a difference to how some people see the past. It won’t change the hurt that some choose to feel. Only proactively seeking to change their mindsets about their “lot” will lead to meaningful positive change in their life.

So, perhaps those who want to ruminate on past mistreatment of their ancestors may instead try focussing their thoughts and energy on how to make better their future and that of their descendants.

26 January 1788 represents the start of my ancestors being dispossessed from their native lands, from their family, and from their previously known lifestyle. They had to survive new threats and dangers, and comply with new rules and behaviours imposed on them. They were subject to sickness, famine, and violent treatment from those who now held power over them.

Almost 150 years after the arrival of the British at Sydney Cove, my grandmother gave birth to a son. He was immediately taken from her by the white government as she was “inappropriate” to be a mother. She raised 13 more children in abject poverty, suffering abuse from her alcoholic “husband” and receiving no protection from the white government.

235 years after the arrival of the First Fleet, despite the effects of inter-generational trauma and the trauma and poverty of the most recent generations, I am a descendant who is highly educated, in long-term secure employment, happily married with two wonderful teenage children. I have a great life despite the trauma experienced by my ancestors.

My ancestors were not Aboriginal. One of them was a male convict who arrived with the First Fleet on 26 January 1788, the other was a female convict who arrived with the Second Fleet in 1790.

It was not just the First Nations Peoples who were subject to the negative impacts of British colonisation.

Anyone who thinks changing the date of Australia Day (from 26 Jan) will change anything, is very naive. The Indigenous have demanded so many things (that they have been given) and yet still nothing has changed. The National Anthem has been changed for the Indigenous, they get Naidoc week, Reconciliation Day is a Public Holiday for them, ATSIC public service commission established just for Indigenous, special housing and welfare, special employment program, A National Apology, millions in compensation for stolen generations, land rights and native title, given lots of land, special healthcare programs, Uluru Statement, ongoing millions in funding. It never ends. The government decades ago, should have given the Indigenous people a million dollars each, and made them sign a statement that they have received compensation, and put an end to these ongoing never-ending claims.

Please stop kidding yourself that changing the date will change anything, because it won’t.

26th is Arrival Day of the British Navy. That really just celebrates Rum, Sodomy and the Lash.

Capital Retro10:54 am 29 Jan 23

All those services you cited are still available in Canberra.

18th is the arrival day of the first fleet. not the british navy. The british Navy have not been.

What if we created a day that celebrated a united Australia and allowed people to choose whether they took that day off to celebrate, or went with the 26th? It would be really interesting to see how things progressed over time, which day became the bigger celebration.

What day would that be then?

I think it’s laughable for people to claim this type of thing when in reality the same people whinging about the current Australia Day would also end up whinging about what ever other day was chosen as well.

How about the day that we include the voice of first nations people in our constitution?

Psycho,
How on earth does including further racist clauses in our constitution represent a united Australia? It’s about as deliberately divisive as you can get.

However, It’s lucky that each citizen already has an equal “voice” to parliament, including Indigenuous Australians.

It’s called a vote.

Almost every country celebrates a violent event such as the taking over of an existing government, occupation and subjugation of those who oppose the takeover. Does that make it smart? Or just conformist? Once a tradition causes harm, it is wise to reconsider its value in current times.

Blindly following past ways will always upset those who were harmed by them historically, causing upset and sometimes anti-government action. So why do we do it? Because we always have. Is that a good reason? Does it help us unite a nation? No. So why not set up a new day that does unite all Australians as Ian suggests?

Really, what would it cost us to set up a day for celebrating a united Australia, one that celebrates all newcomers and all longer term residents, all ages from all backgrounds? Those who want to celebrate 26th January could still do so, but not as a national holiday.

Too many of our national holidays are based in historical events that are only meaningful for a few, so let’s create a new day that we can all celebrate together. We could create an entirely new set of public holidays for things that we celebrate today, things on which we’ve grown and progress.

I have no attachment to the current date of celebration. I think January 1st is the really logical date to have it, ie when we became a country rather than a bunch of colonies. As for changing it, I think its a small but significant gesture towards reconciliation, and is completely painless.

Australia was founded by the British (Europeans). Anyone who doesn’t like that is welcome to stop taking advantage of all our British concepts – they can stop taking welfare, stop taking social housing, not use national healthcare, not use the education system, not have trial by jury legal system, not be found innocent until proven guilty etc. If you want to reject Australia’s British history; then you can start by rejecting all those things. Those who don’t like Australia Day want to take everything British that they can, but just complain about it at the same time. They are such hypocrites…

Aside from the fact that British people are not Europeans and that all of those concepts you cite are not limited to Britain, it makes sense to adopt what suits our nation from other nations and chuck out what doesn’t suit us. This is Australia, not Britain. All of the concepts you cite are used differently here and have been modified to suit our needs.

I don’t think anyone is suggesting we reject British history, just that we evaluate it more objectively based on the facts, rather than seeing it through rose coloured glasses as if it was all good. it wasn’t. I’m glad to live here and not there, although I have lived there and know that this is a much better place. We had women voting here well before Britain as we are more progressive in so many ways. In other ways we’re not.

Gregg Heldon5:56 pm 22 Jan 23

If the date has to be changed, then I would suggest May 8. Old and New Parliament House were both opened on that date.
Just my tuppence worth.

What a great thought!

Remember when old Parliament house was invaded.

When will Australians of non-English descent pay to use the English language? Sorry but everything that makes Australia fundamentally Australian came from great Britain; the language, the Westminster democratic system of government, the rule of law, etc. Australia Day should be marked by the day on which Australia was founded by the British and established those systems, traditions, language and culture. Australia comes from Australis meaning southern land which has latin origins, i.e. European heritage. Those that have a problem with Australia Day are very welcome to stop calling our country Australia as well.

As long as you believe this, you will remain more British than Australian, heavily influenced by personal bias and myths written by the Brits. We changed everything that came from Britain to suit us better in Australia and we’ve adopted much from other countries. Thank goodness we didn’t stick with British food or aristocracy in our upper house of parliament. Thankfully we’re also learning to appreciate other cultures and the value of their contributions to our nation.

A national day should commemorate the formation of the nation. Jan 26 does not cut it. it is a milestone date not one of formation. to my mind that date is 9 July 1901. this day brought into effect the Australian constitution and from that date Australia operated as a constituted commonwealth. We had completed the journey from continent to colony to commonwealth. We do not have a war of independence or a Bastille Day upon which to hang our hats – we are too boring for that. But 9 July represents the end of colonialism and the start of the commonwealth.

The date itself is too non-descript so in its stead I recommend renaming the Kings Birthday as Commonwealth, Constitution or Federation Day and we get a long weekend to boot. As for a summer holiday we can always mark the last Friday in January each year as Education Day to indicate the start of the school year. Just jokes – but I am sure we can concoct something.

Get over it and look forward.

Why does everyone get triggered about an alternative date? The first Australia Day was in July 1915. Sydney anniversary day was on 26th January, and it only became a national public holiday in 1994.

HiddenDragon8:14 pm 20 Jan 23

A change from 26 January might be worth supporting if it took things one step closer to shifting the focus away from blame and guilt and on to enduring, workable solutions – but that won’t happen, because there will always be another symbolic issue (the flag and the name of the nation being obvious next candidates), another reason to keep kicking the can down the road and thus avoid some very inconvenient truths.

Keep the day and let people do with it what they will – whether that’s celebration, noisy protest, quiet grieving or just sleeping in and not doing very much. For those who have the option of working on the day, and take it, don’t take another day off in lieu – give your earnings on the day to an indigenous charity.

It is a day that divides the nation. Give us a day that unites us.

And what day would that be Jack?

Amd if someone complains about your new day are you going to constantly change it to meet every single person’s wants?

Leave it. You whinge you work (without Public Holiday overtime rates). I’ll be sitting back relaxing

How about we have Federation Day on January 1 and, on the last Monday in January, we have the Big Weekend (as in the Big Banana etc)?

Someonesmother2:15 pm 20 Jan 23

Yeah I love that colonisers get drunk and chant Aussie, Aussie, Aussie on a day that reminds me every year of the genocide of invasion, the loss of culture, country and removal of my grandmother from her family. Lots to celebrate hey?

wodenresident11:24 am 20 Jan 23

Of all the battles to choose to fight, I do not understand this one.

There should be more awareness of the massacares and the impact it had on Aboriginal people. Many of these massacres occured occured before there even was the Nation of Australia.

Capital Retro1:29 pm 20 Jan 23

More massacres resulted from wars between indigenous tribes even before there was the first settlement.

Calling bs on this comment, considering there were no written records of that time.

SigmaOctantis7:33 am 21 Jan 23

Also if Australia was colonised by any other country they would have been utterly eradicated.

A claim without evidence.

Evidence? Many countries colonised others and they still have first nations people, so this claim doesn’t stand up.

How about cancelling Australia Day and replacing it with Flagellation Day. This will be marked by a day of national misery, blame and recrimination, processions of weeping and wailing self-flagellates, calls for more compensation and ending with an official flag burning ceremony. It will be a day of divisiveness, promoted and enjoyed by morally superior academics and sycophantic journalists. Of course the millions of migrants and their descendants who were attracted to Australia for the many advantages it offered over their homeland will not be invited to participate. They can go and have a bbq on the beach or watch the cricket.

Both sides are free to behave how they want on 26 January. I rarely give it a thought one way or the other. Just wish the protagonists would sort it out and try to move on.

Australians are free to mark Australia Day in whichever way they want. They can celebrate a terrific country, they can protest against a terrific country, they enjoy the public holiday or express their guilt by rejecting the public holiday.

Stephen Saunders9:51 am 20 Jan 23

British head of state, British flag, British national day. I’d amazed if any of them are replaced in my lifetime.

We’ve got one already – the anniversary of the Rum Rebellion. Just happens to be on the 26th of January.

Hilarious that the author complains about the divisiveness of Australia Day but then finishes with a promotion of including more formal racial division in the constitution as a positive.

And wants to call it “progress”.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Capital Retro7:33 am 20 Jan 23

What evidence have you that Federation was exclusively for white Australians?

Australia did not exist until Federation.

SigmaOctantis7:30 am 20 Jan 23

They’ll be asking for the constitution to be changed next. They’re 3% of the population.

Capital Retro10:19 am 20 Jan 23

You have been hearing voices.

What a predictable bore…every year whinge, whinge, whinge.

Come and celebrate what makes this one of the greatest countries to ever exist all you sad sacks.

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