What does Australia Day mean to you?

Rebecca Vassarotti 24 January 2020 128
Australian flag and Aboriginal flag

As Australians, we have a long way to go and much to do to achieve the practical outcomes of equality and opportunity. Photo: File.

Each year as Australia Day approaches, I find myself feeling more and more uneasy about the celebration of the holiday on 26 January.

This view is shared by a significant group in the community and has seen some momentum building around changing the date, particularly given the reality that the celebration of Australia Day on 26 January is a relatively recent thing – with all states and territories only recognising this public holiday from 1994.

The official website says that Australia Day is a time to celebrate all the things we love about Australia: “land, a sense of fair go, lifestyle, democracy, the freedoms we enjoy but particularly our people.”

However, given we choose to celebrate this on the anniversary of an event that had such devastating impacts for our First Nations people, this is very challenging.

We cannot shy away from the truth that this is the date on which England proclaimed Australia Terra Nullius and claimed it as its dominion. This act began the dispossession, the oppression and the denial of rights for Australia’s First Nations peoples.

Each Australia Day, I reflect on the things that I love about the nation of my birth and where I have spent most of my life. I also imagine what more we can do to ensure there is fairness, equality and opportunity for all Australians. It is impossible to do this without reflecting on how far we need to go on our journey of reconciliation with our First Nation’s people.

We know that true reconciliation is based on truth-telling, recognition and justice. Yet here in Australia, we are still stuck on fundamental issues such as recognition and reconciliation.

While the Uluru Statement from the Heart was quickly dismissed by many political leaders, it provides a powerful framework for moving forward in a united way, to build a future for all Australia that is based on truth-telling, recognition and reform of the structures that create the disadvantage faced by Australia’s First Nations people.

There is work happening to progress the reconciliation journey, particularly around recognition.

Here in Canberra, the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body, first established in 2008, continues to be one way to provide a democratically elected voice to Government. Last year, a historic first tri-partisan-sponsored bill means that each Legislative Assembly sitting day will start with a formal introduction of Ngunnawal language – a language that some elders were warned not to use due to fears of discrimination or being removed from families.

However, we also know we have a long way to go and much to do to achieve the practical outcomes of equality and opportunity. The experience of other reconciliation processes has shown us that reconciliation will not be achieved without acknowledgment of past wrongs, forgiveness, healing, reparation and a joint commitment to create a more equal future.

For different reasons, primarily the ongoing bushfire crisis, Australia Day in Canberra will be a relatively low key affair. There will be a morning event, and some great things to celebrate, including recognising this year’s ACT Australian of the Year Katrina Fanning, an amazing role model for all Canberrans at the national awards celebration. She will be joined by other inspiring Canberra citizens involved in the Awards. However, this is a public holiday that will continue to be challenging for many.

In his famous Redfern speech, Paul Keating said: “there is nothing to fear or to lose in the recognition of historical truth, or the extension of social justice, or the deepening of Australian social democracy to include indigenous Australians.”

Independent of the date on which we commemorate Australia Day, until we recognise this and walk together to achieve it, for me it will be a muted celebration.

Do you think the way we commemorate Australia Day is changing?

Rebecca is an ACT Greens Candidate for the seat of Kurrajong in the 2020 Territory Election.


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128 Responses to What does Australia Day mean to you?
Jaanos Eesti Jaanos Eesti 5:50 pm 26 Jan 20

It means being thankful that Australia allowed my grandfather and mother to settle as refugees after WW2 and not wind up in Siberian gulags like their other family members, even if they faced a certain amount of discrimination.

chewy14 chewy14 12:49 pm 26 Jan 20

“particularly given the reality that the celebration of Australia Day on 26 January is a relatively recent thing – with all states and territories only recognising this public holiday from 1994.”

I wish people would stop spreading mis truths and lies about the history of Australia Day. The only thing that happened in 1994 is every state agreed to celebrate the public holiday on the actual date rather than the closest Monday to it. It had been a public holiday Australia wide for 50 years before that and the event it represents widely celebrated from the early 1800’s.

It’s not a relatively new thing.

Robert McMahon Robert McMahon 9:06 am 26 Jan 20

Good to celebrate a nation that enables its citizens to openly criticise its institutions and national symbols. Many people world wide are denied this precious right. Happy Australia Day.

Wayne Weaver Wayne Weaver 6:59 am 26 Jan 20

You do know that Cook landed in Australia in April 1770 don't you? Just sayin!

Andrew Satrapa Andrew Satrapa 9:09 pm 25 Jan 20

Counter to that, a recent ABC poll says 60% of Aussies want to retain the current date - so it really is up in the air, isn’t it?

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 9:14 pm 24 Jan 20

Another vote for sticking with 26 January – at least until we become a republic (probably some time in the reign of Charles III would be my guess) – assuming, of course, that said republic is not proclaimed on 26 January.

In the meantime, 26 January probably better serves the purposes of reconciliation campaigners. Alternative dates would still be open to attack on the grounds that they derived, one way or another, from conquest and dispossession, but 26 January has more rhetorical potency – not least because so many seem to think it commemorates James Cook (somewhat stronger name recognition than Arthur Phillip).

    JC JC 8:35 am 26 Jan 20

    What about 1st Jan. Celebrate when Australia came into being when the colony became a federation.

    Nah won’t work that’s already a public holiday and that what most people really care for.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 11:42 am 26 Jan 20

    Retired and unemployed people don’t get public holidays, JC.

    chewy14 chewy14 12:44 pm 26 Jan 20

    Hidden Dragon,

    Good point, there’s really no other date of relevance that wouldn’t be attacked for the same reason as 26th January.

    JC,
    For the people who call Australia Day “invasion day”, how does the formalisation of the federation of Australia as a unified nation on Jan 1 not represent the exact same thing?

    Plus as you say, it’s already a public holiday and no one would support it.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:14 pm 24 Jan 20

It’s a bad day for vandal climate change deniers like me because I’ll be at a neighbourhood BBQ being abused by chardonnay sippers demanding climate change action while chanting “the science is settled” or “we agree to disagree” while they refuse to debate it and when they start bragging about their latest (carbon excessive) cruise or European jet holday I wll be physically ejected when I remind them what hypocrites they are. Someone’s gotta do it.

chewy14 chewy14 12:23 pm 24 Jan 20

Every time Australia Day is approaching, I find myself having a growing unease about the expected flood of articles like this attempting to attack Australia day and lessen it’s importance.

” given the reality that the celebration of Australia Day on 26 January is a relatively recent thing – with all states and territories only recognising this public holiday from 1994.”

Particularly when people use blatant mistruths to do so.

Australia Day has been a nation wide public holiday since 1935, it was just held on the Monday closest to the 26th January until it was unified on the actual date in 1994.

The date itself has been celebrated since the early 1800’s, the idea that it’s a relatively new thing is blatantly false and the only people attempting to spin that narrative are either ignorant of history or lying.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:17 am 24 Jan 20

Peter Mackay and spiral are both correct.

rationalobserver rationalobserver 8:48 am 24 Jan 20

It used to be a time to come together and reflect on how lucky we all were.
It has been highjacked to become a time of division and discord. The antithesis of reconciliation.
In the future, I suspect it will become an annual reflection of how much my relationship with my country has deteriorated over my adult life.

Spiral Spiral 7:22 pm 23 Jan 20

All cultures have good and bad aspects.
Australia Day commemorates the event which ultimately led to the creation of our country. Without that event it is extremely unlikely there would be one country occupying this continent and we most likely would not be living under the same laws as we are now.

For those of us who are not indigenous or descended from convicts transported here, ask yourself why your family moved here? There are plenty of other places in the world with plentiful natural resources.

Most likely they moved here because of the free, just and equitable (none of those done perfectly but better than most other places) society that resulted from the event on that date.

Australia is a great nation. Not perfect but still great. The foundation for that greatness was laid on that date.

It seems to have become very fashionable in recent years to raise questions about our nation on Australia day, to use it as an opportunity for “Truth” and to shine a light on the unpleasant aspects of our culture and history.

All cultures have good and bad aspects. All cultures.
Presumably in the spirit of Truth, Reconciliation Day will be a suitable time for a similar article questioning Aboriginal Culture.

Or does Truth only go one way?

    Gilavon Gilavon 12:55 pm 24 Jan 20

    If the British hadn’t landed here I wonder what Rule of Law our original Australians would be living under nowadays. Sooner or later a colonial power would have landed on another “invasion day”.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:02 pm 24 Jan 20

    Indeed, it could be that we would be eating paella and drinking cerveza, fighting bulls and building Catholic churches on every plaza.

    There would be no aborigines and therefore no reason for reconciliation.

    The British were not perfect but I’m glad they got here first.

    Spiral Spiral 7:53 pm 24 Jan 20

    Your point is very valid, and the French or Russians are candidates.

    However I think the people who are so vocal against Australia Day envisage a fantasy where no Colonial power arrived.

    astro2 astro2 12:55 pm 26 Jan 20

    Australia Day doesn’t need to be on January 26th though does it? There’s nothing particularly sacred about that day.

    Spiral Spiral 5:02 pm 27 Jan 20

    Without that day we would not be here. This city would not be here. Sydney, Melbourne etc would not be here. Any settlements in their locations would not have those names. This nation would not be here.

    People who just enjoyed their Christmas holidays and look forward to Easter owe that to that day as the British brought Christianity here.

    Anyone who has had or is looking forward to Long Service Leave ultimately owes it to that day.

    Our legal and political systems came from that day.

    Even things like us driving on the left side of the road link back to that day.

    It is the day that set in motion the events that led to the Australia that exists today.

    And of course don’t kid yourself. The end game is not just to change that date. The end game is to remove any celebration of non-indigenous achievement on this continent.

    To prevent that a line will need to be drawn at some point. We may as well draw it now.

    By all means incorporate an element of recognition and sorrow into Australia Day. But leave the date.

Daniel Evans Daniel Evans 6:59 pm 23 Jan 20

It's about drinking beer, lamb on the Bbq and unwavering patriotism with national flags everywhere and hanging out doing all this with other great Aussies

    Jill Lyall Jill Lyall 2:19 am 24 Jan 20

    Daniel Evans straight from John Howard’s jingoistic playbook

James Gallagher James Gallagher 2:05 pm 23 Jan 20

I respect the perspective of the original land owners and if they are not good with it, then neither should we be.

Dean Barnes Dean Barnes 12:42 pm 23 Jan 20

I don't go in for Nationalism, so it doesn't really effect me either way.

However, there's a great deal of pain and darkness associated with this date for a portion of our community and we should acknowledge and respect that, regardless if the date is changed or not.

    Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 5:58 pm 23 Jan 20

    Dean Barnes Which portion of the Community? There cannot be more than a few now who do not trace their ancestry to those who arrived in 1788 and since.

    Are we to reject our ancestors?

    Dean Barnes Dean Barnes 6:00 pm 23 Jan 20

    Peter Mackay Did I say, or even imply that?

    If you're going to bother responding, at least have something worthwhile to say.

    Jill Lyall Jill Lyall 2:18 am 24 Jan 20

    Dean Barnes it was never a thing until Howard’s jingoism got everyone excited. No one saw it as anything but a welcome long weekend.

    Dean Barnes Dean Barnes 2:19 am 24 Jan 20

    Jill Lyall Oh Howard was the king of Jingoism and his nationalistic agenda has stuck long after he's been gone.

Sammie Davis Sammie Davis 12:18 pm 23 Jan 20

My daughter will be turning 9 and my nan will be turning 89.

Wayne Warton Wayne Warton 11:38 am 23 Jan 20

People who think there is majority support to change the date must live on a different planet. There isn’t and it isn’t going to happen. No matter how much whinging they do.

Adam Richard Herbst Adam Richard Herbst 11:37 am 23 Jan 20

Change the date

Max Robinson Max Robinson 11:26 am 23 Jan 20

Vanessa should consider moving somewhere else. Australia Day is. It changing

Andrew Dudley Andrew Dudley 11:18 am 23 Jan 20

The time for a Republic and a REAL Australia Day is now. The current day is a footnote in the The history of the British Empire. Even the Queen has stated multiple times that she doesn’t understand why we haven’t got it over and done with at this point.

Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 11:08 am 23 Jan 20

It has no meaning to me. As a kid I loved it. Stalls and festivities at Machattie Park and the end of school holidays. After the Cronulla riots I noticed similar things such as alcoholism and wearing the flag as a cape which started to tarnish it all. Finally as an adult I became more empathetic towards Indigenous Australians and how this is a day of mourning, survival and invasion. I desperately want to celebrate how amazing Australia is but I cannot do it on the 26th.

    Darcy Ryan Darcy Ryan 4:41 pm 23 Jan 20

    Russell Nankervis ok. Let you boss know that you don’t support the day and show up to work for standard pay.

    Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 4:48 pm 23 Jan 20

    I never work Australia day. While it is a public holiday, no worker should forego their entitlements or rights at work.

    Darcy Ryan Darcy Ryan 4:52 pm 23 Jan 20

    Russell Nankervis but if you feel so strongly against it give it up in protest.

    Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 6:18 pm 23 Jan 20

    Nope. Not paying penalty rates is exactly what the government would want. How about they just change the bloody date. How is that too hard to understand?

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