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Australia Day: a date that divides us

As Australia Day 2016 approaches, I feel, once again, a sense of discomfort, something I attribute to my uneasiness about what this day represents.

I have long felt uncomfortable about using the 26th January to commemorate the birth of our nation. After all, it was that day in 1788 an occupying force landed in Botany Bay, a force that sought no dialogue with the indigenous inhabitants nor cared for any.

Our own recorded history tells us our white ancestors just barged in and assumed control with no interest or concern for the civilization that was already here.

We now use the anniversary of that day, regarded by the descendants of those inhabitants as a day of infamy, to celebrate with a backyard barbeque, a jolly street march, a picnic at the beach and lots of empty speeches, endless demonstrations of moronic flag waving, and fake nationalistic trumpet blowing.

We act as if they didn’t matter, as if their concerns were immaterial. There’s something clearly wrong about that. It’s insulting.

sydOur achievements over the past 228 years are nothing short of outstanding. From such humble beginnings we have realized extraordinary growth, expansion, development, stature and respect across the globe, so much so, that desperate people fleeing their own war torn, dysfunctional, over populated countries clamour to get here.

They come by plane disguised as entrepreneurs, as business people, as academics, as students, they come to join family members already here, they come in leaking boats, and they even come from countries more sophisticated than ours but stifled by class distinction, political corruption and economic suffocation.

Clearly our greatest achievement, the one that stands out above all else, is our multicultural mix and our tolerance. Notwithstanding certain minorities within our society who would try to disrupt this unique cultural recognition and acceptance, we have shown the world we can live together in harmony, tolerant of race, creed and colour.

It is even more remarkable that most of this multicultural mix has occurred in the last 65 years. Yet despite this monumental achievement and reason to celebrate our liberalism, our open-mindedness, our multi-cultural blending, we choose to celebrate it on a day that, for the vast majority, has no significance whatsoever, and only serves to remind our indigenous population of their subjugation, their overthrow and their suppression.

Is it not time to take a second look at what we celebrate and what is appropriate in the timing of that celebration?

While the 26th January should be marked as an important historical date on our calendar, it does not warrant the status of a national birthday.

danceIf we want to celebrate a true Australia Day, one that recognizes our indigenous population and the millions who have come since to make this their homeland and contribute accordingly, we have to look beyond January 26th.

We have to redefine what Australia Day means and not align it to a date that challenges the respect of a significant part of the population both black and white. We’re better than that.

On the second Monday in June we take a day off work to mark the Queen’s birthday. It’s not her birthday, and even her own people in the United Kingdom don’t celebrate the occasion, so why do we? Surely wise heads can see the contradiction here.

Why not replace the Queen’s Birthday the second Monday in June as our Australia Day?

There has, in the past, been strong support for merging Anzac Day, 25th April with Australia Day. I like the idea, but having visited both Gallipoli and The Western Front, I’d hate to see the spirit of the Anzacs take a back seat to anything.

fedWhich brings us to the 9th of May, a date which also has significance. It was the opening of the first Federal parliament in Melbourne in 1901. It was also the opening date of the new Parliament in Canberra in 1927 and of the new Parliament House (the existing one) in 1988; this would be my preferred model, but I’m just one vote.

So, what do you think? Can we start a movement and put this present embarrassing, insensitive and divisive blot on our calendar into the public domain for discussion?

I want to celebrate this day; I want to feel the pride ripple through my body. I want to feel the lump in my throat as they play the national anthem.

I’ve never felt that way about the 26th of January. The notion of celebrating our national day on a day that recalls the arrival of an invading fleet intent on establishing a colony for another country is not my first choice, or my last. In fact, it’s no choice at all.

23 comments

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  1. Korstraw

    How about we just have a ‘Reflection Day’ for all to ‘reflect’ or celebrate what’s significant or important to them?

  2. JohnB

    “…For those who’ve come across the seas
    We’ve boundless plains to share… ”
    A plain lie – that I now refuse to sing.

    It needs to change; we need to change.

    This powerful oration from Stan Grant will reverberate into the future:
    https://youtu.be/uEOssW1rw0I

  3. John Kelly

    Thanks, JohnB. A very powerful speech.

  4. Sen Nearly Ile

    Great to see the flags introducing your post, lord, but avoidance rarely works..
    Gallipoli and the horrors of Flanders( Kokoda, Long Tan) absolutely deserve their day, arguably, as long as the Australian flag has the UK emblem, so does the Queen.
    ps
    PROTOCOLS
    NSW:When using ‘Indigenous’ and ‘Aboriginal’ always use a capital I or A. Aboriginal and
    Indigenous are classified as a people, and therefore qualify using capitals. This
    applies only to Australian Indigenous people.
    QLD:Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people are the Indigenous peoples of
    Australia.
    VIC:Always use a capital for Aborigine, Torres Strait Islander, Indigenous, Traditional Owner,
    and Elder. The lowercase word ‘aborigine’ refers to an Indigenous person from any part
    of the world and not to the ATSI people.

  5. mars08

    I feel the same way about our flag. It has been kidnapped by certain groups and used as a symbol of division.

  6. terry

    it should be always on a Monday , Australia day everyday

  7. JEANETTE

    I could not agree more however fear that like many comments of this nature fall on deaf ears. Stan Grant’s powerful and moving speech I’m sure made many reflect on the appalling treatment of our Indigenous Peoples past and today. WA government closing remote settlements because of the cost but if it was a mining coy. wanting faacilities, money would be no object. And to boot Tony Abbott the greatest threat to fairness in this country announcing he will contest his seat again. Regardless of who wins the next election considering the right and left of the LNP, probably a more divided Senate, Clive Palmer and sadly a weak Bill Shorten, if Abbott is in place anywhere on the front bench we will have the vilest tongue ever all over again. A world recession may just put everyone back in their boxes.

  8. Debra Cora

    Many Indigenous(Traditional Owners) have been talking about celebrating on the day of Bridge Crossing, well along those lines. I feel that would be more representive of my people, and can also ensure that our struggle and survival is embraced.

  9. RosemaryJ36

    I think the name Australia was imposed on this country with no discussion with the original inhabitants. Can we not celebrate a Unity Day on a day regarded as suitable by the descendants of those first inhabitants?

  10. diannaart

    My moment of clarity regarding the timing and the type of celebration that is Australia Day was confirmed by none other than John Howard, banging on about “black armband history” for the temerity of suggesting that Australia’s history is far longer and more sophisticated than a mere 200 years of white supremacy.

    I have been unable to think of the 26th of January as anything other than Invasion Day – because that’s what happened in 1788 – a fleet from Britain set anchor on the shores of a great southern land – there was no joining of peoples together, nor acknowledgement of the people already living here, nothing whatsoever about nation building – it was a penal colony imposed upon another people’s land.

    I’ll celebrate a national day when we actually have a national day to celebrate.

    PS

    I had not been very happy about this celebration for many a year, but Howard really cemented my opinion. Thanks, Johnny.

  11. Kyran

    Mr Grant has encapsulated so much of the discussion that ‘we need to have’. It may well be “one of discomfort” for many of us, but these are matters of fact and incredible importance. It is a discussion we need to have. Not little johnnie’s ‘black armband’ orchestrated history, but the recording of facts.
    From what I have heard today, Mr Grant’s speech was made in October. It went public on the weekend. From the interviews I have heard today, this man has a narrative, with a very deep understanding of oral history, ‘dreamtime’.
    And a very deep understanding of Australia.
    Having arrived here as a six year old from Eire (which also has a history of dispute with mother England), I am more conflicted, than uncomfortable. Should I back Australia, or Orstrilia?
    My bad, I guess I’m not that conflicted.
    Thank you Mr Kelly. Well said diannaart. Take care

  12. Pingback: Australia Day: a date that divides us | THE VIEW FROM MY GARDEN

  13. Pingback: Australia Day: a date that divides us – » The Australian Independent Media Network | olddogthoughts

  14. Roswell

    Gosh, LOVO, there were a few memories in that link.

  15. LOVO

    G’day Roswell, I was just reading about the ‘don’t participate in oz day’ , umm, momentum (??) ….and thought “here we go again”, as it were….all the “lets find another date” arguments, et al, *sigh*. ……and then, Roswell, I had an epiphany. .a dejuv moment……no, really ? …and thought “now where have I came across this before” ?
    It’s a topic thats somewhat topical at the moment….and will be, (again), over the next 28 days. *doublesigh*
    The memory for me. ..that was my first comment on A blog ☺

  16. Michael Taylor

    I should have blocked you then. ??

  17. LOVO

    ?????…?

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