There is no way forward without changing the date of ‘Australia Day’

Zoya Patel 20 January 2021 213
Aboriginal and Australian flags

Is reconciliation being held back by our national day? Photo: File.

It’s the week before the national holiday that causes division across the country, so it wouldn’t be right for me to focus this week’s column on anything other than ‘Australia Day’.

For those who have somehow missed the volatile debate on the issue, a growing number of progressive Australians believe that the 26th of January is in no way cause for celebration, given it marks the beginning of over a century of violence committed against First Nations Australians in the name of colonisation.

While some Aussies enjoy a carefree day of BBQs and beer, many of us have a more sombre experience of reflecting on the destruction of Indigenous culture and communities, as well as the racist undertones that Australian patriotism has been associated with both since and before the Cronulla Riots of 2005.

Before you immediately assume this is another cookie-cutter plea for changing the date of the holiday that supposedly celebrates this great nation, let me preface this column by saying that my views on Australia/Invasion Day are more complicated than that.


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As some Indigenous activists have pointed out, changing the date before a treaty is established could obscure the continuing issues of colonisation experienced by First Nations Australians, and provide an excuse for not making the structural changes needed to achieve genuine reconciliation.

In fact, the enthusiasm with which many non-Indigenous Australians have flocked to the movement to change the date alludes to the broader issue: symbolic changes like this are much easier to fight for than the long term, structural changes that need to occur to our health, education, housing, welfare and political systems to genuinely recognise Indigenous sovereignty and address the abhorrent inequality that exists in Australia today.

While hundreds of thousands of us tweet about changing the date once a year, most go back to ignoring the issue within a week while First Nations activists continue the arduous process of ongoing campaigning year-round.

But regardless of whether changing the date is the most meaningful action for reconciliation or not, the polarising nature of the debate on this issue means that there is no way forward without changing the date.

The decision by both sides of government over the years to dig their heels in and refuse to acknowledge or respond to the alignment of Australia Day with the violence of colonisation means that the symbolic weight of the issue has grown.


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It is now a line in the sand that has been permanently drawn, and until the date is changed, no genuine cultural change towards reconciliation is possible.

The issue has become the most visible example of Australia’s inability to reckon with our violent history, and until it is resolved, we are in a constant state of stalemate. Not only do we continue to cause harm to First Nations Australians each January by essentially restating a lack of political will to address the gaping inequality and prejudice they face, but we also are unable to genuinely celebrate this country and any shared sense of national pride.

Both sides lose. Nobody wins. And patriotism continues to be a dirty word that is mired in racist ideology.

As a migrant who arrived in Australia in 1992, I have memories of a time when seeing an Australian flag draped over someone’s shoulders, or the sight of a southern cross tattoo didn’t make me flinch. But that was long before both symbols became inextricably linked to racist rhetoric that claimed Australia for white people only, and firmly put both people of colour, and more importantly, First Nations Australians, outside of the celebrated Aussie identity.

I do love Australia. I love being Australian. I want to celebrate our country as a fair, progressive, inclusive society, but whilst we continue to turn a blind eye to how our national identity is created to the exclusion of large swathes of our community, this simply isn’t possible.

There is much work to be done to address reconciliation in Australia. Changing the date is only one small part of this process, but it is a necessary one, that could mark the beginning of a new era of understanding, compassion and equality for all Australians.


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213 Responses to There is no way forward without changing the date of ‘Australia Day’
Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:15 pm 01 Feb 21

I object to Sorry Day being held on the 26th May each year.

Reason is that is the day I was married so I demand whoever in the victim industry was responsible for that date being chosen please re-allocate it to another day.

Judy Uren Judy Uren 12:20 pm 01 Feb 21

Happy to change the name. However we can’t change history and just erase what occurred on this day.

Acton Acton 7:33 am 30 Jan 21

No gain will come from changing the date because whatever date is chosen the haters will still hate and the whingers will still winge. Spiral’s articulate comments are convincing reasons for not changing the date. Appeasement only creates more demands.

Spiral Spiral 1:16 pm 26 Jan 21

Zoya,

You claim there is no way forward without changing the date. Looking at the media reports of the protests today it seems clear that the demands include completely abolishing Australia Day and $1,000,000 compensation to each aboriginal (surprise surprise, its all about money, who would have ever guessed that!).

So changing the date isn’t enough. What are your thoughts? Are we allowed to celebrate the First Fleet and Colonial achievements?

And I have a counter question for you. Why should we acknowledge and celebrate indigenous culture? The great things (such as creating a society that attracted your family to this nation and welcomed you) are being dismissed because of the bad things that went with it.

Though indigenous culture varied across this continent, without a doubt many groups had initiation and marriage customs and “justice” practices that today we would consider barbaric, and that if practiced by another nation today, would attract international condemnation.

These are practices that have hurt, mutilated and murdered people for tens of thousands of years across this land.

Holding indigenous culture up to a similar standard as you hold our colonials to is only fair.

So if you want to relegate our colonial history to the shameful dustbin of history, then in fairness, do the same to traditional indigenous culture and also abolish things such as NAIDOC week.

Or is speaking out against nasty, brutal cultures only appropriate for the ones you have a personal dislike for?

Lou Phillips-Critchley Lou Phillips-Critchley 8:59 am 25 Jan 21

If it has to change, what about Australian citizenship day on 17 September each year. The day is intended for Australian citizens, whether by birth or by choice, to reflect on the meaning and importance of their citizenship. It’s not very well known though.

LSWCHP LSWCHP 8:11 pm 24 Jan 21

There is no way forward until we change the date of Australia Day? Surely this isn’t serious?

Peter Quinn Peter Quinn 5:26 pm 24 Jan 21

So when can we celebrate colonisation????. Whatever day is nominated it will always be contested

dolphin dolphin 5:08 pm 24 Jan 21

so I had ca conversation with a lady I knew a couple of weeks back who was outraged when I said that the arrival of the first fleet was essentially an invasion and we should celebrate our national day on some other day. She denied it was an invasion.

I knew this lady owned a piece of property out near Bungendore so I asked how she would feel if the ACT government decided that it needed a new prison and decided that it would load all the ACT prisoners into trucks and drop them off on her property to build a prison camp. she would get no compensation, would not be consulted, and just to cap it all off the prisoners and their guards would bring with them a range of diseases that she and her family would have no immunity to. finally ever year we would hold a celebration of this great day.

she didn’t like my suggestion much.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:26 am 25 Jan 21

    You are aware that Bungendore is in NSW?

    Joey Mann Joey Mann 3:08 pm 25 Jan 21

    I don’t think that matters for the analogy tbh. The point is the same even if it were the NSW government.

    salvatge salvatge 8:50 pm 29 Jan 21

    Exactly! This totally invalidates Dlophin’s analogy where prisoners are sent from one jurisdiction to another.

    chewy14 chewy14 10:36 am 25 Jan 21

    Wow, so you mean that standards have changed in the last 200+ years?

    Amazing.

    astro2 astro2 12:33 pm 25 Jan 21

    Unfortunately there is still a number of people, thankfully a dwindling number and usually older, who claim that there was no invasion despite an armed force of soldiers carrying weapons coming without invitation onto other people’s land.

    chewy14 chewy14 2:23 pm 25 Jan 21

    Astro,
    Got some evidence for those assertions?

    Links?

    Or once again are your comments all about the vibe?

    astro2 astro2 4:37 pm 25 Jan 21

    There’s been a few surveys published recently on attitudes to Australia Day. Here’s a link to one.
    https://thewest.com.au/news/australia-day/youngsters-want-australia-day-moved-from-january-26-poll-ng-b881776123z#:~:text=Most%20young%20people%20want%20Australia%20Day%20moved%20from,per%20cent%20believe%20the%20date%20should%20be%20changed.
    i’ll let you do a simple search to locate others. The general trend is towards increasing numbers of people willing to change the date (although still arguably not a majority depending on which survey you read) and also that younger demographics are more supportive of not having Australia Day on January 26. The most notable change in events was moving JJJs Hottest 100 to a day close, but not on, Jan26. So it’s certainly not a vibe.

    chewy14 chewy14 6:51 pm 25 Jan 21

    Astro,
    Even though your assertions were specifically about Australia being “invaded”, the trends shown by polling about Australia Day also show the opposite of what you’re claiming.

    The latest reliable commissioned polling, which hasn’t really changed in recent years:

    https://www.smh.com.au/national/almost-half-oppose-campaign-to-change-australia-day-date-poll-20210124-p56wfw.html

    https://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/institute-of-public-affairs-poll-reveals-the-date-most-aussies-want-to-celebrate-australia-day/news-story/52e002974cd57c5f0d5acf29a0a25f50

    Only around a quarter to a third of the population want the date changed.

    Even amongst younger people there is less than 50% support for moving the date.

    So unless by “dwindling number”, you actually mean “significant majority”, I’m not sure where you’re getting your info from.

    astro2 astro2 11:35 am 26 Jan 21

    Hmmm…seems you didn’t read the sentence in my post that said “….not a majority”. The trend, however, particularly among younger people, is a trend towards support for changing the date.
    https://www.news.com.au/national/australia-day-aussie-attitudes-to-january-26-are-shifting-experts-say/news-story/c9fac91d63b0983f297e460964bf0122

    chewy14 chewy14 1:20 pm 26 Jan 21

    Astro,
    No I read your attempted backpeddle and took it for what it was. The facts are clear that it is not a “dwindling number” of people but rather a significant and persistent majority that want to keep the date where it is. Your link even shows it.

    The results of polls have only shifted a couple of percent in the last decade, so to claim there is a “trend” or “diminishing numbers of support” is disingenuous at best and not supported by the data.

    Along with this, your claims that younger generations mixed support means attitudes are changing makes the enormous assumption that younger people’s views don’t change as they mature.

    If this were true, don’t you find it strange that the Greens and Labor haven’t dominated with massive federal election wins despite significantly higher support amongst younger people for decades? Its almost like people can change their minds over time.

    astro2 astro2 3:52 pm 26 Jan 21

    Increasing numbers of people are expressing their opinion that the date should be changed. Amongst this group there is a trend towards younger people supporting a changed date. It doesn’t have anything to do with which party you vote for so you’ve drawn a long bow there. The articles referenced cited a trend towards changing the day even though at this stage a majority of survey respondents still prefer the date to be on Jan 26, even though that majority is decreasing. People can change their minds either way over time so that doesn’t add anything to your point of view.

    chewy14 chewy14 6:15 pm 26 Jan 21

    “Increasing numbers of people are expressing their opinion that the date should be changed.”

    Except this isn’t true, the polls have been fairly consistent in the support of not changing Australia Day and all the links provided have shown that strong majority suport. Thats the point.

    “Amongst this group there is a trend towards younger people supporting a changed date”

    Once again this is incorrect, there is no trend, younger people have always supported changing the date more than older people, the overall numbers haven’t budged much over the last decade or so as I’ve said and as the data shows.

    If you think there is a “trend”, it would be seem to be at a glacial pace over many decades based on the change in positions shown in repeated polls. Hardly your claimed “dwindling numbers”.

    Also, my comments about political support was simply to provide a clearly similar example where supposed strong generational positions dont necessarily lead to the longer term societal and political change that is claimed.

    And all of this still misses the original point you were making about a “dwindling number” of mostly older people claiming there was no invasion. A claim for which you have yet to even attempt to provide a shred of evidence.

    It’s strange that you dislike Donald Trump so much when you have so much in common.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:37 am 28 Jan 21

    When a lot of people consider the actions of the ABC JJJs Hottest 100 to be a defining moment we know this country is totally stuffed.

    Spiral Spiral 3:51 pm 25 Jan 21

    If it was intended as an invasion force, the First Fleet would have to be one of the most pathetic “invasion” forces in history.

    They embarked with 247 marines.

    And of course most of the effort for those marines once they arrived here would have been in keeping the 789 convicts under control.

    It would seem rather absurd planning to send an invasion force of 247 halfway around the world to conquer a continent.

    And though things obviously quickly went pear shaped, isn’t it true that the official policy of the British Government was to establish friendly relations, a policy at least initially supported by Arthur Phillip?

    So we have a tiny force, mainly occupied with controlling convicts, and with a policy and orders to establish friendly relations.

    I’m not saying their intentions were nice by today’s standards, but it was not an invasion!

    astro2 astro2 5:32 pm 25 Jan 21

    The word invasion isn’t defined by how many weapons or soldiers are used. If someone enters your home with a weapon or weapons and you didn’t invite them; then that is a home invasion. If you have guns and the opposition only have spears then it is pretty obvious what the outcome will be. It is, most certainly and without any doubt, an invasion.

    Spiral Spiral 7:35 am 26 Jan 21

    While to the average person there may be no difference, legally there may me a world of difference. Before that date and since that date there have been many cases around the world where one nation has invaded the other and because it was an invasion the territory acquisition is permanent.

    The issues of land rights is largely reliant on the British not officially invading this continent.

    astro2 astro2 11:29 am 26 Jan 21

    It’s an invasion. There isn’t “official” and “unofficial” invasion.

    chewy14 chewy14 6:26 pm 26 Jan 21

    Astro,
    There are clearly legal issues involved in the term “invasion”.

    To give you a clear example of this let’s take your previous comment to Spiral:

    “If someone enters your home with a weapon or weapons and you didn’t invite them; then that is a home invasion”

    So by your definition a police officer executing a warrant to arrest a person at your home is actually engaging in a home invasion rather than maintaining the law.

    Similarly, a soldier who kills an enemy combatant in a war is extremely unlikely to be charged with murder despite the act committed being a crime if it happened in peace time.

    Things are not always black and white.

    The courts in Mabo found that Australia was “settled but inhabitated” rather than “invaded” or “conquered” but I’m personally not too worried about the semantics.

    If Australia was invaded, then the Indigenous population were conquered and based on the laws at the time, the right of conquest made this a legal act.

    It is good that things have changed and the modern world is slightly more enlightened in seeing the horrible outcomes that this type of state behaviour encompasses.

    astro2 astro2 12:25 pm 30 Jan 21

    Providing conjecture about what you think may or may not be the legal implications of an invasion does’t alter the fact that an invasion happened. Part of the ‘moving forward’ in the author’s article includes this. If there are still people who think an invasion didn’t happen, that is delusional. And to try to justify an invasion by saying it was a “legal” invasion is just silly.

    chewy14 chewy14 7:28 am 31 Jan 21

    Astro,
    I’m not the one trying to use terminology that I don’t know the meaning of, you are.

    Facts matter Mr Trump.

    astro2 astro2 5:53 pm 01 Feb 21

    Can assume then, that you’re not actually denying the fact of invasion, just trying to cloud the issue with possible “legal implications” which don’t alter the fact of invasion. I’m not sure what you’re attempting with “Mr Trump”.

    chewy14 chewy14 9:31 pm 02 Feb 21

    Astro,
    I’m saying that there are legitimate arguments to be made on both sides of that debate and It’s not nearly as clear cut as you’re claiming.

    As above, the High Court’s decision in the Mabo case disagrees with your stated position, they found that there was no invasion, although that in and of itself isn’t definitive.

    It’s not “clouding the issue” to want to deal in facts and it’s clear that your use of the term “invasion” is an attempt to evoke a sympathetic emotional response, rather than a rational examination of the evidence or legalities of European settlement of Australia.

    You “want” there to have been an “invasion” because you believe it suits your political narrative. But it’s clear from your statements and the examples used that you haven’t actually thought it all the way through.

Spiral Spiral 4:56 pm 24 Jan 21

Zoya,

You talk about moving forward. How far do we move? If we get rid of Australia Day, will people then get upset about the name of Sydney (which is named after the guy who planned the colonization)? If people then get upset at the names of Queensland and Victoria (named of course after a British queen), do we rename them? What about the name Australia? In your view where do we draw the line?

You mention inclusiveness and “treaty”. Do you realize any treaty is going to result in more laws giving more rights to aboriginals? This is not being inclusive, it is being exclusive and racist. We already have a nation where if we are being honest we should be telling immigrants that they and their descendants will never have the same legal rights as some other ethnic groups, and that is only going to get worse. Welcome to Australia, a proudly racist nation.

You mention Indigenous sovereignty. Can you please explain what you mean by that? Would you happy for indigenous groups to be able to legally conduct practices that the wider community consider abhorrent such as corporal punishment (tribal spearing), or female circumcision or male subincision (look that one up if you are not familiar with it)?

By todays standards, 18th century British society was brutal and abhorrent. So was traditional aboriginal society. We certainly don’t want unpleasant features of that British society finding its way back into this country. We also have to be careful that undesirable aspect of indigenous culture are not allowed sneak in. .

You hit many popular buzzwords, but no real details. Can you please provide some details on your vision for an Australia that has “moved forward”

Maya123 Maya123 3:02 pm 24 Jan 21

What about moving the day to Wattle Day?

    astro2 astro2 4:13 pm 30 Jan 21

    nice idea and it’s not during a crowded public holiday space. I think a lot of people would be waiting out for the onset of spring ( a season of regrowth and regeneration). It might also highlight the unique biodiversity of this land and give people something non-political to celebrate.

Phil Cowan Phil Cowan 10:01 pm 23 Jan 21

The 26th Jan is a Public Holiday because on the 26 Jan 1949 because we ceased being British subjects and became Australian citizens including all Aborigines.

It has nothing to do with the 1st fleet or Capt Cook.

Let's just enjoy the day and forget the concept of invasion day. Hope you have a great BBQ

    Steph Maxwell Steph Maxwell 10:32 am 24 Jan 21

    Phil Cowan Aboriginal people were not really included until after the 1967 referendum removed the section of the Constitution that said they were not to be counted as part of Australia's population

ghutch ghutch 11:39 am 23 Jan 21

A lot of good comments. Why don’t we celebrate Oz Day on 1 Jan. Yeah I know you all still asleep from new year eve. But is the date that Australia was created. We were not Australia on 26 Jan 1788. Some still think Cooks landing on 29th April is the day. Actually its funny as Cook did land again in Oz on his 3rd voyage on 26th Jan 1777. Yep its true! On his 3rd voyage on 26th Jan 1777 his two ships Resolution & Discovery dropped anchor offshore at Adventure Bay on Bruny Island, Tasmania. He left for NZ on 30th Jan.
This came about as Tobias Furneaux in HMS Adventure, the 2nd ship of his 2nd voyage to the South Seas had landed in the same area in 1773 after getting separated from Cook during the crossing of the Southern Ocean. Furneaux had found that Adventure Bay offered shelter and supplies
Its likely if you think long term that when we become a republic we will be able to adopt a new day. Maybe 26th April. Surely one day the republic will come. I’d vote for it now

iamthat iamthat 8:46 am 23 Jan 21

Keep the date, change the name. British Penal Colony Establishment Day has a nice ring to it.

John Goodwin John Goodwin 3:03 am 23 Jan 21

29th April 1770 was when an explorer landed /discoverd Australia

    Bruce Lovell Bruce Lovell 10:18 am 23 Jan 21

    John Goodwin it wouldn't matter what day it was they would still complain and find some excuse for it to be changed leave it as is

    Alan Sargeant Alan Sargeant 9:16 am 28 Jan 21

    This was the date that someone from Europe officially came to the east coast. The west coast had been previously visited several times by the Dutch and at least once by the English.

Chris Hobbs Chris Hobbs 11:58 pm 22 Jan 21

Unless I'm missing something, James cook landed in botany bay on 29th April 1770. The first gun shot was fired on this day.

If we had to isolate a date for invasion day, it would be this one, 29th April.

I understand 26th Jan is significant for colonial Australian history yet almost obselete in this century.

If choosing a date, by a modern Australian society, alleviates the hurt from the past and brings everyone together afresh, then why not? We are no longer bound by British colonial sentiment, so let's do something selfless, inclusive and compassionate and choose a New Australia Day!

    Rohan Anderson Rohan Anderson 8:24 am 23 Jan 21

    Chris Hobbs, you're missing lots. Better to blame Dampier for telling the world after his 1699 visit to WA that it was barely inhabited, and even then, the most miserable people on earth. Inspiring Gulliver's Travels, his influence was profound, paving the way for invasion by cementing the notion of an empty land awaiting European civilised and enlightened development.

Linda Stapleton Linda Stapleton 5:38 pm 22 Jan 21

Changing the date will just be like reconcilliation day.. it becomes a nothing action. remember when they said we had to have this day to change things to get issues dealt with..how many decades ago was this?????.. I'm sorry but I see nothing of benefit from changing the date and all I ever see from these sort of articles is the stirring up of hate and racism... every article puts any forward step towards actually fixing issues that need fixing, back at least three steps... I believe the term to use is give them something to 'placate' them and then forget them for a while...

Spiral Spiral 5:10 pm 22 Jan 21

The 26th of January is the date that is fundamental to this country.

If the First Fleet (or some other colonizing enterprise) had not arrived, there would not be an Australia. There is no way that the hundreds of tribes that inhabited this land (almost the size of Europe) would have joined together to create one huge nation.

Also, the laws and culture that exist in this country have grown out of these brought by the First Fleet.

To those of you who think the date has no importance to you, especially if your family has only been here for a generation or so, please honestly think about why you or your family moved here.

I bet it wasn’t because you/they were enamored by traditional Aboriginal culture. Instead it was probably due to the wonderful society (not without its problems of course) that we inherited end evolved from Britain via the colonists.

The events of that date are the foundation that this country was built on. Of course the First Fleet landings did not guarantee we would end up where we are, but we would not have this society without it (or something similar).

To not recognize that is to deny the truth of our history.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:13 am 23 Jan 21

    Good to hear the relevant facts. Most commenters have never read a real account of the history of Australia. The current versions taught in schools are overweighted with transgressions against the aborigines.

    JC JC 12:39 am 24 Jan 21

    All fairly valid points except the first fleet didn’t arrive on 26th Jan. They arrived a few days earlier, decided where they landed was crap and moved on to Port Jackson.

    So want the date of arrival then 20th Jan is the rightful day.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 3:22 pm 24 Jan 21

    Thanks for reviewing the first sentence of spiral’s comment, JC.

    Can we have your full and forensic analysis of the other points? I mean, “fairly valid” isn’t just good enough is it.

    JC JC 7:24 am 25 Jan 21

    Seeing as the date is what is being discussed then I see little point in making comment on the rest of the comments except to say they are valid.

    But the date itself if we want the day the first fleet arrived then 26th Jan is wrong. That is the date that Sydney was essentially founded.

    Me personally I don’t care for either of those dates. As others have said I personally think Australia as we know it today was founded on 1st Jan 1901, the first day of the 20th century.
    Back then people knew how to count unlike 99 years later in 2000. But I digress.

russianafroman russianafroman 4:48 pm 22 Jan 21

Here is a message that some people need to hear, especially those on the far left. Australia is open for ALL people. Immigration, multiculturalism, has made Australia a very diverse place. Some people needed to be reminded – this is a GOOD thing!

Vicki Dickford Vicki Dickford 2:44 pm 22 Jan 21

You can't change history it will be the 26th January no matter what so lived with it and enjoy the day

Peter Alsop Peter Alsop 1:52 pm 22 Jan 21

Your right change it to 20 January. The date the first fleet arrived in Australia..

January 26th isn't even the real date already it's the date when the fleet moved from Botany Bay to Port Jackson.

Now with knowing that its not even the real date I ask what good would changing the date achieve? As it's already a different date.

CBR Tweets

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