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Change the Meaning not the Date: Australia Day, Meet ANZAC Reverence

By Jennifer Michels  

Australia’s special day of celebration; 26th January, the date Aussies have branded Australia Day. For others, a date for mourning. The Aboriginal people have heavily objected to Australian Day since its introduction. For those who do not understand why; 26th January 1788 is the date Captain Arthur Philip raised the Union Jack (the flag of Great Britain) and Australian soil was proclaimed British Territory. For the Aboriginal people, this date signifies the beginning of 200+ years of war, loss and hardships that can only be described as slavery by many who are still alive today.

With all the discussions regarding racial discrimination lately, I have taken time to contemplate both sides of the story as they apply to me personally. Considering I am a descendant of Aboriginal background, and as much as I may wish to just close my heart to what for years my own prejudice called “that other side” of my ancestry; I should not! My hands were not responsible for what we now know are “atrocities.” And although I grew up with family members who experienced some of these “atrocities,” my hands did not personally experience these either. Therefore, I should not feel the guilt as I believe a child does not shoulder the errors of their forefathers. Yet I cannot escape the guilt or the other emotions that travel hand in hand with both sides of the Australian story.

My eyes cannot close to these injustices as the effects are still relevant in our society today. This means my feelings are amplified in January. Amplified because it seems my fellow citizens show a lack of empathy towards the pain celebrating and discussing Australia Day creates. Because we chose this date to celebrate a special patriotic connection to each other. While simultaneously failing each other in recognition of the sacrifices and benefits, both parties have and still do bring to the table.

Drawing my own conclusions from discussions flying around social media I will admit some of my opinions have changed forever, but not in the way I would have imagined! If someone asked me last month what I thought about changing the date, I would have instantly replied with a blunt explanation backing the call. Yet I have been forced to admit the prejudices and ignorances within my views; after the frenzied replies to online comments challenging my opinions regarding Australia Day and the call to change the date. I was forced to admit I feel the same way about other dates of mourning within Australian history and culture, namely Remembrance Day, ANZAC Day, and the bombing of Darwin.

After contemplating these challenges of my opinions, it is hard not to draw parallels between ANZAC Day and Australia Day. Especially as it seems to be a popular reason to undermine the call for changing the date.

I am by no means trying to say these days should not be celebrated. They are extremely important dates for me, as they rightfully are for many Australian and New Zealanders in the case of ANZAC Day. Without these heroes in our history, I might not be here or have the freedom today to even write this. Especially when one considers the fact my great grandmother was evacuated from Groote Eylandt during the bombing of Darwin.

However, the biggest difference I personally draw from these days is the reverence applied to our days of mourning such as ANZAC Day. Reverence that brings us together.

Australians memorialise the sorrow and celebrate the freedoms saved by some aspects of our history. Each year speeches are heard around the world recognising not only the support, but also the losses of our fellow ANZAC heroes. Including acknowledgements of these same impacts on those who were on the opposite side of our lines. Ceremonies are conducted to commemorate the Australians who fought to protect Darwin when it was bombed in 1942 by Japan. Commemorating those who paid the ultimate sacrifice saving a country they never saw again.

Those same principles of reverence have not been applied to a date that left a deep scar in our history books, a date that is of similar significance to many Australians. The date that changed everything for both sides. The date that signifies the conception of the Australian society as we know it today. The same society the ANZACs and our other heroes in history fought so hard to protect.

This deep scar that has been talked and argued about for decades, without successful resolutions agreed upon. Remove either party’s involvement in the Australian story and our country would not be the multi-cultural community it is today. Nor would our fellow citizens know and understand the sacrifices nor the benefits both our ancestors have contributed to this beautiful land.

Now I ask, if our ANZAC heroes are so highly regarded; if the Bombing of Darwin and Remembrance Day have ceremonies still held in their honour; why are similar ceremonies not practiced around Australia to commemorate the founding of the country we all love today?

Recognising the fallen Aboriginal ancestors? Commemorating the fallen British Settlers, Convicts and Soldiers? Bringing an aspect of recognition? Clearing the misunderstandings? Resolving at least some of the feelings of both sides to our historical story?

Ceremonies from both sides of our proud cultures provide platforms for all Australian voices to be heard equally. Finally achieving political correctness, with what should be one of the most highly regarded and celebrated days in Australian culture.

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2 comments

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  1. leefe

    This is just another old white feminist barging in, but how can you change a meaning that is inextricably tied to that date?

    Remembrance Day marks the end of a (totally unnecessary) hideous war. ANZAC Day, while it marks the beginning of a pointless invasion of a foreign country during that war, has nonetheless always been about acknowledging the fallen; it’s about the people who suffered, not the reasons they were exposed to that suffering.
    But Jan 26th marks a very different illegal act of war: the invasion of this land and the brutal dispossession of its inhabitants. And there has been no reparation, no honesty, no concession on the part of the resulting nation as to the damage that was, and has continued to be, done. There is no way to divorce that date from that act; the choice of date, and the choice to cling to it are deliberate, because that is what the concept of “Australia” is to those who refuse to accept changing the date. To them, the events of date epitomise the nation they want.
    Meeting in the middle is all very well, but you can’t do that when one side is forever taking a step back when you step forward. Forgiveness with remorse from a perpetrator is simply a licence to reoffend.

  2. Bronte D G ALLAN

    I agree leefe! It is past time that this country, “celebrated” Australia Day on some other date NOT the date commemorating the invasion of the British & the date around which the “treatment” of our first people began. Also “our” flag should NOT have the Union Jack in the corner, nor should the dirge that is our so-called “National Anthem” be kept, it must be changed to something better!

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