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Reconciliation a great initiative but we still need to change the date of Australia Day

By Rebecca Vassarotti - 24 August 2017 14

As outlined in Minister Stephen-Smith’s recent article, there is a proposal before the ACT Legislative Assembly to introduce a public holiday in May each year to recognise reconciliation with the first Australians. Dubbed ‘Reconciliation Day’, it will be held at the end of May each year, close to the date of Australia’s referendum in 1967 and at the start of Reconciliation Week. It is proposed that this holiday will replace the family and community day which is held at the end of September and commence from 2018.

This idea was first muted by former ACT Labor MLA Indigenous member, Dr Chris Bourke, and is a way to progress our reconciliation journey. It seems to me a practical way to increase awareness and understanding of Australia’s history of race relations, provides an opportunity to learn more about our challenging past and enables time and space for all of us to engage in reconciliation activities.

While it’s a good step, it is only a small one and doesn’t negate the need for us as a community to reflect deeply on what to do about Australia Day and the problems with its current date. This was again highlighted last week, as we saw the announcement of Canberra’s Reconciliation Day coincide with Yarra Council’s announcement that it will make significant changes to the way it deals with Australia Day, recognising that for many in the Aboriginal community 26 January is a day of sadness, trauma and mourning – a move that triggered a sharp rebuke from members of the Government.

While there are so many bigger issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, I am one of an increasing number of people who feel deep unease that our national holiday celebrating our identity falls on a date that is acknowledged to be the beginning of dispossession of the first Australians. While the Prime Minister asserts that Australia Day celebrates values of a fair go, mateship and diversity, how we can in all seriousness say that it is ok that the date chosen for this celebration remembers a day where a colonising nation arrived in Australia, claimed the land for themselves, choosing not to even recognise the humanity of the original inhabitants and triggering tragic and catastrophic consequences for these communities – the impacts of which are still being felt today by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia.

There has been little community discussion about the idea for Reconciliation Day, but I believe we are a community who understand the need to confront our past and work to create a better future for all members of our citizens, and as such will support this move. It also provides a catalyst to generate an important conversation about Australia Day and how we wish to deal with this issue in our community. I believe that we can work together to a date that is inclusive, respectful and truly reflective of the things that make this country a wonderful place to call home.

I think the Reconciliation Day Public Holiday is a great idea but we need to go further in our reconciliation journey and change the date of Australia Day. What do you think?

Rebecca is a member of the ACT Greens and ran as a candidate in the 2016 Territory Election. The ACT Greens support changing the date of Australia Day.

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14 Responses to
Reconciliation a great initiative but we still need to change the date of Australia Day
stubby morrison 1:24 pm 05 Sep 17

chewy14 said :

What exact date would you change it to and what happens when that date will certainly fall on the same date as another historic event that someone is offended by?

The idea of our society constantly trying to pander to those who can make themselves permanently offended, is the exact opposite of what we as a nation should stand for.

How about simply recognising history, that there were people adversely affected by British colonisation but on the whole it was a massive positive for our nation and everyone, even the indigenous population, has gained significantly from it?

That we don’t try to selectively apply current morals to past events (but only when it suits our ideology)?

Describing the British colonists ignoring international law and actively trying to wipe out Indigenous people as “people being adversely affected” is a bit troubling. I think the very reason some people want the date changed is because it’s glossing over history. Considering Australia didn’t actually become a single nation until over a century after the first fleet arrived, isn’t Invasion Day (or perhaps “Colonisation Day” or “First Fleet Day”) actually more historically accurate?

It’s also worth noting that the tradition of having Australia Day as a consistent national holiday on 26 January only goes back to 1994.

Affirmative Action M 1:18 pm 26 Aug 17

Funny how people are trying to re write history.

When I was younger virtually nobody celebrated Australia Day – it was just a day off. I remember being invited to my first Australia Day party about 1982.
I lived in a town with a very large Indigenous population yet I cannot recall any Indigenous person having an issue with AD until the early 90’s when some began to call it Invasion day.

dungfungus 9:29 am 26 Aug 17

Spiral said :

For those who are against Australia Day, please explain what this continent would be like without the First Fleet landing.

While it is difficult to predict what would have happened if no Colonial powers had set foot here, there are some things that do seem a safe bet.

This continent would not be one country. Australia as we know it would not exist. It would made up of multiple countries and of course there is no guarantee they would exist peacefully.

Recent immigrants to this country don’t come here just because we have lots of natural resources. There are lots of countries with similar blessings. They also come here because we have a stable and tolerant society that evolved from that brought by the British.

The Australia we live in today exists as a direct consequence of that January 26th in 1788.

Of course that doesn’t mean Aboriginals should be happy or thankful for what happened. It is fair to acknowledge how it impacted them. A Reconciliation Day or 1st Peoples Day or whatever, is justified.

But to ignore the impact and importance of the 1st Fleet on this country and its culture is wrong.

Indeed we could have ended up like South America which was colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch, French and of course the Spanish. Some of the Spanish colonies were attacked by the British as a consequence of the global war between those empires.
In retrospect, the now extinct Incas would probably have preferred to be invaded by the British rather than the Spanish.

Spiral 8:03 pm 25 Aug 17

For those who are against Australia Day, please explain what this continent would be like without the First Fleet landing.

While it is difficult to predict what would have happened if no Colonial powers had set foot here, there are some things that do seem a safe bet.

This continent would not be one country. Australia as we know it would not exist. It would made up of multiple countries and of course there is no guarantee they would exist peacefully.

Recent immigrants to this country don’t come here just because we have lots of natural resources. There are lots of countries with similar blessings. They also come here because we have a stable and tolerant society that evolved from that brought by the British.

The Australia we live in today exists as a direct consequence of that January 26th in 1788.

Of course that doesn’t mean Aboriginals should be happy or thankful for what happened. It is fair to acknowledge how it impacted them. A Reconciliation Day or 1st Peoples Day or whatever, is justified.

But to ignore the impact and importance of the 1st Fleet on this country and its culture is wrong.

dungfungus 11:37 am 25 Aug 17

Rollersk8r said :

Three things:

(1) From a purely practical perspective I’d much rather a public holiday in late September than late May. In a similar vein, everyone enjoys a public holiday in the middle of summer.

(2) The date of Australia Day is not important to me. Change the date, change the name. Just don’t expect it to make everyone happy.

(3) Funny how condemnation of Australia Day grows louder each year – yet there’s total silence on becoming a republic and changing the flag. Why not do all 3 at once!!?? Change the flag and move Australia Day to the day we become a republic.

“Funny how condemnation of Australia Day grows louder each year “

Really? It is celebrated in my family, neighbourhood and the circle of friends I have. Maybe you need to turn the volume down or try listening to another station.

Rollersk8r 9:49 am 25 Aug 17

Three things:

(1) From a purely practical perspective I’d much rather a public holiday in late September than late May. In a similar vein, everyone enjoys a public holiday in the middle of summer.

(2) The date of Australia Day is not important to me. Change the date, change the name. Just don’t expect it to make everyone happy.

(3) Funny how condemnation of Australia Day grows louder each year – yet there’s total silence on becoming a republic and changing the flag. Why not do all 3 at once!!?? Change the flag and move Australia Day to the day we become a republic.

John Moulis 8:31 am 25 Aug 17

It is interesting to note that Australia Day (Invasion Day) wasn’t always celebrated on 26th January. There was always a long weekend a few days after the 26th and on the Monday we had the celebrations. It was the Bicentenary in 1988 which saw the first celebration and holiday on 26th January and prime minister Bob Hawke that year changed the holiday and celebration to that date from 1994.

I would like to see the January long weekend brought back. That Australia Day be degazetted and the Monday after the 26th be the holiday to be called First Nation Day.

DJA 8:04 am 25 Aug 17

CanberraStreets said :

… a few things ….

If you don’t understand the difference between commemoration and celebration then your opinion on public holidays is of lesser value. From your comments you don’t understand ANZAC Day and you don’t understand why the tradition of going to the pub has arisen.

ANZAC Day is a day of commemoration. The Queen’s Birthday is a day of celebration. I am comfortable that Australia Day should be a mix of both celebration and commemoration. Extreme views on both sides of the Australia Day camp are not helpful – we should not gloss over the bad judgements (sins, acts, crimes whatever you wish to call them), but we should not diminish the great achievements either.

chewy14 7:49 am 25 Aug 17

CanberraStreets said :

DJA said :

We don’t “celebrate” ANZAC Day, we commemorate it.

Potayto/potahto – More people go the pub than the Dawn Service so it seems a purely semantic debating response.

The point I was trying to make is that many of the national days are outmoded and not entirely representative of current day Australia.

We of European descent (and honestly from a lot of other places too) have done pretty well out of arriving in Australia, but celebrating what the original inhabitants/owners must regard as The Day the Genocidal Brits Staged A Home Invasion seems a bit insensitive and unnecessary.

Having named days, like the mooted Reconciliation Day, seems like style over substance given the reality of the situation of many Indigenous Australians.

In the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville and the way that Confederate symbols have become divisive to the USA, some opinion writers have suggested Australia also needs to reflect on its stance on the subjugation and near destruction of the original owners of this continent. Whether keeping the statues of Captain Cook or considering the appropriateness of Australia Day or even playing fair by including some memorials on the sites where the invaders massacred the original owners of the lands – some traditions need to be revisited. It isn’t always easy or comfortable accepting the broader realities of our history, but it seems a grown up thing to try to do.

If people go to the pub on ANZAC day are they really celebrating “ANZACs” or simply treating the day as a day off work?

Similar to the Christian based holidays, you wouldn’t really say that Jewish or Muslim people “celebrate” Christmas would you?

chewy14 7:45 am 25 Aug 17

What exact date would you change it to and what happens when that date will certainly fall on the same date as another historic event that someone is offended by?

The idea of our society constantly trying to pander to those who can make themselves permanently offended, is the exact opposite of what we as a nation should stand for.

How about simply recognising history, that there were people adversely affected by British colonisation but on the whole it was a massive positive for our nation and everyone, even the indigenous population, has gained significantly from it?

That we don’t try to selectively apply current morals to past events (but only when it suits our ideology)?

CanberraStreets 11:48 pm 24 Aug 17

DJA said :

We don’t “celebrate” ANZAC Day, we commemorate it.

Potayto/potahto – More people go the pub than the Dawn Service so it seems a purely semantic debating response.

The point I was trying to make is that many of the national days are outmoded and not entirely representative of current day Australia.

We of European descent (and honestly from a lot of other places too) have done pretty well out of arriving in Australia, but celebrating what the original inhabitants/owners must regard as The Day the Genocidal Brits Staged A Home Invasion seems a bit insensitive and unnecessary.

Having named days, like the mooted Reconciliation Day, seems like style over substance given the reality of the situation of many Indigenous Australians.

In the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville and the way that Confederate symbols have become divisive to the USA, some opinion writers have suggested Australia also needs to reflect on its stance on the subjugation and near destruction of the original owners of this continent. Whether keeping the statues of Captain Cook or considering the appropriateness of Australia Day or even playing fair by including some memorials on the sites where the invaders massacred the original owners of the lands – some traditions need to be revisited. It isn’t always easy or comfortable accepting the broader realities of our history, but it seems a grown up thing to try to do.

DJA 4:53 pm 24 Aug 17

We don’t “celebrate” ANZAC Day, we commemorate it.

Mysteryman 4:19 pm 24 Aug 17

No, we don’t. Australia is what it is by and large because Europeans landed here on the 26th of January, not in spite of that fact. That day has significance and I for one appreciate all the good things that have come from it.

CanberraStreets 3:33 pm 24 Aug 17

To be perfectly candid, another named day – one to recognise reconciliation -rings very hollow when our Government declines to come to grips with constitutional recognition of Australia’s first peoples, cheerfully changes the Native Title laws to override the wishes of the traditional owners who stand against Adani’s proposed coal mine, and the Prime Minister’s 2017 Closing the Gap report informs us that it is abjectly failing to deliver against any of the targets set.

I cannot see a reconcilliation day tipping the balance in our favour in any meaningful way.

More broadly, Australia needs to have a long hard look at its national public holidays. We celebrate:
– the Queen’s birthday – a day not near her birthday and notably an event for which even the UK does not declare a(n) holiday;
– ANZAC day – a day where the British Army leaders sacrificed a lot of Australian and New Zealand men to the Ottoman Army and told us we had become a Nation on those foreign shores;
– Australia Day – a day to celebrate the wrong headed belief the British were claiming Terra Nullius over the largest island on Earth;
– an assortment of Christian holidays to ignore the 48% of Australians that have self declared as not Christian and not celebrate our diversity.

New Year’s Day is okay, I guess – although people using alternative calendars may disagree.

Lets have a non-binding postal vote on what holidays Australians support.

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