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.
Our 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.
If 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.
Which 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.
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