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Australia Day: Can we talk about this?

Depending on how far this article travels, I expect to take a bit of stick from some quarters, but if it starts a movement then, it’ll be worthwhile. As Australia Day 2014 approaches I’m beginning to feel the onset of cultural cringe again and attribute that feeling to my sense of discomfort for what this day represents. I have long felt uncomfortable about using the 26th January to commemorate the birthday 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 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 this day, long regarded by the descendants of those inhabitants as a day of infamy in their culture and history, to celebrate our national day. We act as if they didn’t matter, as if their concerns were immaterial. There’s something very uncomfortable about this. Putting it bluntly, it’s just inappropriate.

Our achievements over the past 226 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 those 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 60 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 which for our indigenous population only serves to remind them, first and foremost, of their subjugation, their overthrow and their suppression.

Therefore, is it not time to take a second look at the manner of our celebration and what is appropriate in the timing of this event?

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. 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. To promote it as our day of celebration to mark the birth of our nation is simply out of place. Likewise, celebrating the Queen’s birthday in June is also badly chosen. Why not replace the Queen’s Birthday the second Monday in June as our Australia Day. For those alarmed at the prospect of missing out on a public holiday in January, fear not. We can still have one for the 26th January. Let’s call it First Fleet Day or Settlement Day or whatever. But for pity’s sake let us end the embarrassments so many of us suffer as we endure endless demonstrations of moronic flag waving, stupid street parades and fake nationalistic trumpet blowing.

Those, who for some obscure reason feel the Queen will be put out at such a move, can take heart; I suggest she won’t give it a second thought. 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.

Perhaps the Queen’s birthday holiday weekend is the wrong choice. It’s not summer and we are conditioned to spending our national day in the sun rather than on what is actually the opening of the snow season. Downhill skiing and zipping across mountain trails doesn’t quite project the image such an important event should enjoy. If so, what other day would work? We gained independence from mother England on 1st January 1901 and that shines brightly as a natural alternative. Given, however, that we tend to get up to some strange behaviour the night before, behaviour that might render a large number of celebrants unfit to take part in the festivities, perhaps not. 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 Flanders Fields, I’d hate to see the spirit of the Anzacs take a back seat to anything. The 9th of May also has significance, being 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; to hell with summer, 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 on any 26th of January in the past. I feel it at the AFL Grand Final every year but that’s another matter. The notion of celebrating our national day on a day that coincides with a date in history 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.

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  1. James

    Our renowned tolerance, if it ever was no longer exists! With the continued racist policies against the original custodians of this land and our treatment of refugees our reputation is and should be in tatters.
    Ashamed white australian.

  2. scotchmistery

    A second.

    Nothing needs to be said. Those cretins with shoulders bedecked with “national flags”, are too stupid to realise, they carry the flag of another country in their rabid screams for blood on the sand, after being baited by Jones, Hynch and their ilk, and their less than intellectual diatribes.

    I also am shamed.

  3. PeterF

    A friend has always called 26th January New South Wales Day ( He’s from South Australia). He then goes on to propose 27th May as Australia day, since it is the date of the referendum in 1967 when it was decided by referendum that all Australians were to be counted as such.

  4. Keith Woolsey

    agree with scotchmistery, we have got to do something about that flag!

  5. Jamie Gardiner

    Great article. I have long thought 9 May 1901 was the best choice to celebrate, given the overload on 1 January. The first sitting of the first more-or-less democratically elected parliament of the new nation of Australia is a pretty logical and symbolic choice for a national day.

  6. Peter

    We could take note that our national flower, the wattle, has been in our landscape for all of that 30 million plus year’s journey. Its power as a unifying symbol is partly that it springs directly from that land and has been the great witness to the entire Australian story. It has welcomed us all, indigenous, colonial and modern day immigrants. In all of that time, and into the future, wattle is the great sign of resilience and adaption – key attributes of our national persona.
    National Wattle Day, gazetted as 1 September, would be a candidate for an alternate day of national celebration, reflection and re-commitment. But having the conversation about such matters is what is important in the short term.

    Terry Fewtrell – President of the Wattle Day Association

  7. Terry2

    NAIDOC (National Aboriginal & Islander Day of Celebration) which has now extended to NAIDOC Week is not celebrated by a national public holiday so perhaps we should be dropping the Queens’ Birthday as a public holiday in favour of NAIDOC day.

    Australia Day is an important national day for the recognition and celebration of modern Australia and we should not be ashamed of it. It was absolutely inevitable that this continent would be settled by waves of human migration and it started with indigenous Australians and was followed by the rest of us. We now have an incredibly diverse population and it never fails to impress me what we have been able to achieve as a nation in less than 250 years.

    On 26 January we celebrate our diversity and the triumph of human endeavour and that’s the way it should be.

  8. John Kelly

    Reblogged this on THE VIEW FROM MY GARDEN and commented:

    Is it not time to take a second look at the manner of our celebration and what is appropriate in the timing of this event?

  9. Rob Coughlan

    I was born in this country. My family has been here for generations. I love its changing landscapes. I have, however, not a patriotic cell in my body for the flag, which is used on Australia Day and other occasions to divide rather than unite. It is used to promote them and us. I dread each Australia Day with its banal celebrations which to me personally mean nothing. I would prefer January 1 as Federation/Australia Day. To bad if some like to over indulge the night before. They will miss out on the festivities. Let us make it a multicultural celebration of who we are.

  10. Ange Kenos

    I’d move the holiday for a horse race to another date

  11. charybds

    Storm in a teacup … it’s basically only those with political barrows who care about this date,
    for the rest of us it’s about celebrating that we are are Australians and the date is immaterial.

    …. That flag however definitely needs revision .. how about dumping the union jack in the corner for the aboriginal flag and credit the original inhabitants of this continent with the nationhood they deserve.

  12. idontcarewhatyousayorthink

    Maybe Australia day should be the celebrated on the day Australia becomes a republic. 😉

  13. Sue

    Great article Mr Kelly.

    For an alternate date for Australia day, I would defer to the first inhabitants. If offered a choice, I would change the flag to incorporate the aboriginal flag and remove the union jack. As we can no longer honour the second verse of our national anthem (For those who’ve come across the seas, We’ve boundless plains to share) I would vote for Bruce Woodley’s iconic “We are Australian” to replace it.

    I find the current state of Australian nationalism shameful.

  14. suelofthouse

    Sorry that should have read Bruce woodley’s “I am Australian”.

  15. Mike 1

    I will go along with charybds, Let’s get rid of this bloody Union Jack and stand on our own two feet for once. England is in enough strife of its own and owes us NO favours.

  16. Mike 1

    “I would vote for Bruce Woodley’s iconic “We are Australian” to replace it”. Thanks Sue, a wonderful song and written from the heart. I would go along with your suggestion, as many others would I am sure.

  17. Fed up

    John Kelly, I am another old lady in her 70’s that can not see 26th January as Australian Day. Nor can I see how Anzac made us what we are.

    All important day in our calendar, but no way a day that celebrates the birth of this country,

    The 26 th January celebrates the day, that Britain set up a penal colony. No more, no less.

    Until then, we have to settle for the first of January.

  18. Fed up

    At least we no longer celebrate Empire Day m, that later become Commonwealth Day.

    I believe the Queen herself believes it is time to cut the ties.

    When that happens, I believe all ties will be cut. That day could be a real Australia Day.

  19. suelofthouse

    Paul Harvey, like you, I will not be celebrating Australia day. I will be donating to Get Up to assist them to investigate conditions in offshore detention centres. Moneys raised will assist the purchase of journalists’ visas to Nauru the costs for which suspiciously have just been raised from $200 to $8,000 (non-refundable if said visa is not granted!).

    Can you imagine the outrage from the LNP if Labour had tried this head-in-the-sand approach to “stopping the boats”? The MSM would never tolerated it; that they are complicit with the government’s current silence on this issue I am astounded.

  20. John.R

    History is just that,it is History,which we can`t change and at the same time it is His-story,which we can change. I don`t intend to argue the events of the past either way,but the way and the methods of settling this country were not ours,they were the ways of the people of the times,and I doubt that anything has changed in the nature of humans who feel obliged to inhabit anothers`country.What we celebrate and why definitely needs to be redefined

  21. John Fraser


    I consider 26 January a holiday where bogans run around waving a flag that has no relevance to me or the Australia I was born in.

  22. Paul Harvey

    I love this idea. I cannot celebrate Australia Day this year as I am ashamed of what Australia has become and the jingoistic chest thumping stupidity that Australia Day invokes. It only serves to exacerbate this and provide jsutification in the small-minded to act like red-necked bogans and celebrate it….and disgust me more. I do not wish to celebrate it as I see nothing to celebrate. Australia and Australians are becoming more ignorant and ugly and the idea of a fair go and compasison for the weak, the persecuted …the uderdog is disappearing, being replaced by selfishness and thuggery.This is no longer the Australia I recognise. It is not the Australia I was proud to grow up in. And that is not due to the “invasion” by other cultures… but despite it. It is a result of the ignorance of rednecked morons! I’m sure there will be trolls who accuse me of whingeing but still taking a holiday. Well you know what? I would be happy to work but I am forced to take the holiday. Instead I have decided to donate my day’s wages to a charity supporting asylum seekers against this evil putrid government and the ugly souls who support them. I challenge others to do the same.

  23. The Doc

    Wattle Day ia not celebrated throughout Australia, here in the West I have only heard of one time it had momentum and I am over 50 yrs old.
    How about the day that Europeans set foot on Australia, Willem Janszoon.apparently did so on 26 February 1606 , which means we have missed our 400th anniversary of that event.
    On 29th April 1770 Captain James Cook set foot upon Australia having sighted it first on 19th April.

    I think that seeing as several European nations the Dutch, Portuguese, French and English all surveyed the coastline of Australia, but only the English decided to lay claim to it, the day nominated for Australia Day should be the day the Crown, or the British Parliament officially stated they would claim ownership of the land. This is the time that it became Australia, rather than Terra Australis – the Southern Land.

    On the 26th December 1784 Lord Howe wrote to Lord Sydney regarding the plan to set up some form of supply base for British ships, this was due to the hard work of James Matra who, proposed the claiming of Australia by Britain. see In 1787 the British parliament passed an Act – Public Act, 27 George III, c. 2 related to New South Wales, whilst unable to view this, it looks like it may be the Act which decided the fate of New South Wales and therefore Australia.

    I like the 26th of January as a holiday, we are used to having a great party just before we all go back to school and university. Call the 26th Colonisation Day if we retain it as a holiday.

  24. The Doc

    John R, history is not His-story or her-story, it comes directly from the french Histoire meaning simply story or tale – how many idiots keep making this spurious his/her/our story statement?

  25. scotchmistery

    I love this land.

    It’s wide brown plains, it’s blue cloudless skies, it’s azure seas, it’s red sand mountains alongside endless highways, it’s inland waterways its landlocked fishing spots and bridges to nowhere.

    I loved our anthem until George Pell’s darling boy, his main mentor, that vile little slug who besmirches the game of cricket just by his interest in it, and Kevin Rudd decided to listen to the long term unemployed bogans of Penrith and framed the undoing of our country in the name of political expediency.

    I still love the land though it shames me to be the same nationality as those.

  26. John Fraser


    Change the name to "Abbott Day".

    The bogans rioting are his fiercest supporters.

  27. Kelv - Toorak

    I make it a point to never call it Australia day, but Invasion Day. The day should change, but it will never happen, we’re ignorant and not accommodating of anyone else into our thoughts which is evident by a ton of things going on at the moment.

  28. Chery

    9th of May I think it would be more than appropriate to have Australia Day celebrated.. But January 26 has made me ashamed for a number of reasons the slap in the face to the first Australians and the thugs that show themselves on that day cloaked in the flag. They bring disgrace to themselves and the rest of Australia. The flag should be changed and I personally will never celebrate this day.

  29. David Stephens

    Appreciated the thoughtful comments, such a change from the sprays, barfs and yawps one sees commenting on similar stories in the MSM. The proliferation of potential ‘days’ emphasises for me the many-strandedness of Australian history and it is chasing a chimera to try to find one day that each of us can live with.

    Would love to have input from some of the above persons to (tweeting @honesthistory1) where many-strandedness is lauded. The risk is that Anzackery over the next few years will encourage some, particularly younger generations, to think flag-waving military expeditionary forces are the big thing about Australian history and something we should foster in the future.

  30. Twoih

    I can just about bear the drunken flag wrapped shoulders but the continual mindless pontification about “what it means to be Australian” gets to me. These days, it would be more appropriate to name the 26th “Pokies Day” as we appear fixated with exchanging property deeds for a stool in front of a video screen that emits random beeps. Many more Australians will entertain themselves by pressing pokie buttons than will reflect on early European settlers.

  31. jasonblog

    It’s a curious thing, but I remember when Australia Day was just a dorky embarrassment indulged in by a minority of try-hards. It underwent a transformation with the bi-centennial in 1988 & that coincided with the Hawke government deciding to trumpet long & hard the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing in 1990.
    Basically the dumbed down jingoistic ultra-nationalist “celebration” of White Australia that we endure these days is due to the Hawke government, albeit, enthusiastically pursued by John Howard & associated nutters.

    Yeah, I agree that January 26 is not an appropriate date to “celebrate” contemporary Australia.

    I actually find the whole idea of having a “national” day nauseating and conformist and the beginning of rampant authoritarianism. I suggest we have an anti-national day that names and shames contemporary Australia for its many failings of not actively seeking equality and dispensing with compassion and basic human decency.

    I like the idea of Wattle Day. The floral emblem of Australia is Acacia pycnantha and it is remarkably inconsistent and unpredictable as to when it flowers!

  32. rossleighbrisbane

    As I wrote elsewhere, let’s call it Rum Rebellion day which also occured on January 26th and I’m sure that all Australians could find something to celebrate in the overthrow of an unpopular leader…

  33. diannaart

    I like the idea of “Wattle Day” too, although I think “Acacia Day” has a more poetic timbre.

    At least a neutral day, a day without significance for any particular group could then be a day of significance for all.

    To others who have proposed changing the Australian Flag, agree, at the very least ditch the Union Jack – is not inclusive and really just pathetic.

  34. John Kelly

    Not sure an ‘anti- national’ day would get a lot of traction, Jason. ‘Wattle Day’ sounds interesting.

  35. abbienoiraude

    Yes! Yes to everything you wrote.

    I cannot celebrate this day, but recognise it in my own simple way as “Invasion Day” in memory of all those dispossessed, murdered, poisoned, removed and flayed in the name of Britain and her bastard god.

    I grew up celebrating Empire Day, Commonwealth Day and then Australia Day…but taking the bungers out of Empire Day, and educating her, destroyed its importance for one little girl.

    So I am happy for those in the know to choose another date for Australia Day. I would like it to be when we become a Republic, in putting the old binds to rest, and to open up a new dawn, away from this flag, this day, this attitude of ‘us and them’, of the lie that we are a generous and open people. We need a new way, with a true leader who will show us how to be a true, honest, open, caring Nation. Not the bloody mob we have now!
    Goddam Australia till that day comes!!

  36. Alan Smith

    I guess like many nations, Australia faces the problem that our nation – meaning the nation we call “Australia” – was established by an invasion of this continent. Prior to that, the original owners did not regard the whole continent as one unified country, nor did they call it “Australia” – so in a sense, it is perfectly correct to regard the nation as coming into being with the arrival of the first fleet, and the subsequent conquest and occupation of the land mass by the invading Europeans.

    However, this technical argument does not tell the whole story. The very fact that the land WAS inhabited, and that the original owners had to be conquered and marginalised means that we can’t help but carry residual guilt.

    The complication is that with the best will in the world, and like many bad things that happened in the past, it is hard to do anything to redress this. No Australian alive today, be them of wholly external or pure indigenous descent, or any degree of mix between the two, were alive at the time of the invasion and could not possibly have had anything to do with it. Furthermore, many descendants of the original owners are culturally closer to European culture and lifestyle than that of the country’s original inhabitants. Short of everyone who is not of 100% descent leaving the country, a total reversal of the invasion and its effects can’t happen. Even if it did, I can imagine a lot of people with indigenous ancestry would be pretty unhappy about it!

    So: As to possible ways to improve things:

    It is fashionable to use the phrase “band aid measure” in a derisory sense, meaning a half-baked, ineffectual failure to bring about an improvement. But let’s not forget that band aids help a lot in helping wounds heal, stopping them festering and generally benefiting the people on whom they are used. The Rudd government’s apology to the Stolen Generation was one example of this. The shaming of anti-Aboriginal bigots by other, more intelligent people, is another. And any action by our Federal and State governments that indicate respect for our indigenous people and a genuine desire to improve their lot is another still. I would say that anything that shows a genuine desire to improve the situation and compensate the descendants of the original owners for the invasion is to be applauded. NAIDOC day replacing the weird “Queen’s Birthday” public holiday would be such a symbolic, “band aid” but would probably do a lot of good for all that!

    History of full of examples of invasions where the conquerers and the conquered eventually merged into a single people. Taking the history of Britain alone, we see the Roman, Saxon and Norman invasions, and see that many years later both sides are merged as a single nation and have little memory of the wars that happened many years ago! For this to happen, the descendants of the conquered race have to be treated as equals, and with dignity and respect. Let us hope to see as much as this as possible this Australia Day and for the future.

  37. Frank Johnston

    I don’t have a real problem with the existing date and significance. Euopean settlement started with the takeover of the land in traditional fashion, force. The Romans, Saxons, and Normans did it, Genghis Khan did it. England, France, Spain and others did it in the Americas, Hitler almost did it, and Islam is already on the move. You bleeding hearts who think the aboriginals somehow need an apology and compensation should get a life and do something useful, and I’m not talking about crying over illegal immigrants either.

    But I digress. If I am pressed to choose another more worthy subject for Australia day I would look at celebrating Federation. 1 January is not a good day but pick another date. It doesn’t have to be the actual date of the event.

  38. Karl Castan

    A day worthy of such s celebration has yet to arrive.

  39. Zacky Jacobson

    26 January 1788, a day of invasion and disaster for native inhabitants in the Great Southern land by ruthless colonialists. It was like their peaceful days and way of life has came to end. A day where all Hell broke loose.Aborigines; rightful owners of their native land were massacred or driven out of their area where they usually hunt and live. God knows what brutal atrocities the white settlers committed against them. So called Australia Day which doesn’t commemorate the birth of Australia’s independence is actually a day of shame and embarrassment to modern, open, tolerant and inclusive Australia that is setting out to be in the 21st Century.

  40. Bob Higgs

    Making judgement on the past with today’s sensibilities and perspectives is somewhat harsh, especially when one has benefited so well from what has happened.

  41. Sue Lofthouse

    “Making judgement on the past with today’s sensibilities and perspectives is somewhat harsh, especially when one has benefited so well from what has happened.”

    Bob Higgs, which “one” do you assume has benefited so well? Having lived in an aboriginal community for four years, I can only assume that you are not referring to indigenous Australians. Even if white Australians may have benefited from their invasion of this country, it does not preclude them from the realisation that said benefit came at the expense of the original owners.

  42. scotchmistery

    Bob, darling, you possibly don’t belong here. This is a space for those capable of fairly deep thought, as opposed to those who believe what they are told by their political “betters”.

    Probably the best thing for you to do sweetie, is pop back into the kitchen and make tea for your idol, that sweaty girl groper masquerading as a “representative” of Australia in Davos. There’s a dear.

  43. rppozz

    @Sue Lofthouse – yes whites historically have benefited from thieving land rights and marginalizing aboriginals, this disgracefully persists today with whites helping themselves to funds given to help. E.g. in QLD, money allocated to build houses in remote areas has all gone without one house being built and no one is brought to task. Most Australians have someway from this great unfairness but pushing blame onto a section of society we do not like is just another way of using aboriginals for our own aims.
    As for @scotchmistery, what devastating intellectual footwork, although the incorrect personal assumption and cliche spoils it somewhat. I am a lifetime leftie, but prefer reasoned thought to bleated dogma but I see your avatar has you in suit and tie – the uniform of the dumb consensual thinker, so I am not really surprised.

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