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A New Day of Celebration

By Robert Wood

For many people, Australia Day is a day of mourning, of reflection, of protest. There can be no doubt about the ‘change the date’ movement and it is necessary to see it as a starting point rather than the final word. This means we need to move beyond critique and towards an idea of the society we wish to become. To say as much does not make me an apologist for invasion, ignorant of sovereignty, someone uninformed about colonisation. It makes me believe in a future that is reconciled to the possibilities of being truly here. In that way, the conversation about Australia Day is a conversation about identity and our future, about how we live together, today and tomorrow.

After all, what I am to do if we are simply locked into paradigms of our liberal identity positions? I am proud of my in-laws, who are Ngarluma people. In their work as anthropologists, painters, miners, they have given me an insight and appreciation of ongoing Indigenous laws and cultures. I am proud of my father’s family, who are white settlers from Scotland. I love them as people and respect their work on the Snowy Hydro Scheme, Wittenoom Mine, Indian Pacific Railroad. I am also proud of my mother’s family, who are Malayalee immigrants. I love them as people and respect their work as teachers, tradesmen, and counsellors. This story of family is simply a synecdoche for identity in Australia as a whole. We are better off together and this holds true for every field.

So, what is the opening up that ‘change the date’ allows? It allows us to think about a new document that can change how we live our lives on this continent. This is not only about treaty, but also about the republic and a bill of human rights. Treaty is not only an Indigenous issue; the republic not only for whites rejecting the monarchy; human rights applies beyond the people of colour who are some of its foremost champions. All three agendas can fit together if we work together. After all, the legitimacy of the state cannot be assumed in signing compacts with Indigenous bodies; a republic is not only an extension of the white state in an echo of Federation; and a bill of rights is not for the United Nations elite.

So, what do we need?

We need a new social contract. We need a new understanding of how we relate to each other in culture and law. We need to change the date and not only as a negation of what Australia Day now is, but as a positive articulation of what we might become. This is as one society that understands the needs of all the people here, past, present and future. I do not think that is beyond us. I do not think that we can ignore this challenge. After all, the lifestyle of many Australians is one we share; the idea of our public can be generous enough to include the diverse and messy reality we live in on a daily basis; our common values can find material expression in the words that provide a map of what to do, how to live and what the future looks like together.

In that way, we need a new day of celebration, a new day that understands the complexity of the past and present without blinding us to the possibilities of the future, one where we can progress towards a type of understanding that allows each of us to do better, together. There will be, of course, personal interpretations of that, but in calling for a new documents that is a treaty, a new constitution, a bill of rights all at once we can add our voice to changing the date. We can find a new understanding of our place in the world that encourages us all to be a little bit happier, a little bit prouder and a little bit more inspired about our lives in the here and now.

 

Robert Wood’s writing has been published in numerous literary and academic journals. He has interned for Overland, edited for Peril and Cordite, been a columnist for Cultural Weekly. At present he works for The Centre for Stories.

10 comments

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  1. ironoutlaw4c

    We do not need a Bill of Rights. Such a Bill is selfish! What we need is a Bill of Responsibility! Such a Bill would ensure that our rights are protected. No longer could people look away saying, “it has nothing to do with me!”
    But, responsibility will never fit in with the selfish sheeple of Australia whose greed knows no bounds!

  2. Phil

    I think those ideas are both reasonable and noble and would benefit for all of us if developed to the point of adoption. Well argued.

  3. Ken Butler

    Well put, Robert.
    You offer a holistic, encompassing national approach to a real issue, navigating wisely beyond blind partinship.
    You are, we are, Australians !

  4. jimhaz

    [the conversation about Australia Day is a conversation about identity and our future, about how we live together, today and tomorrow]

    Not to me. For me those who support it, aboriginal or not, are using false reasoning to enable a jump on the bandwagon power struggle for the sake of ego. There is no win win that can come from this. My expectation is that changing the date would do more harm to aboriginals due to resentment from those most polarised against it – something that might have an ongoing negative effect for years.

    Any “gain” in changing the date for aboriginals will be temporary as it is emotional thus transient and they will not be satisfied for very long at all. They will move on to some other cause as fighting against something is exciting and gives a sense of purpose.

    “The Indigenous community was more likely to nominate Invasion Day (25%) or Survival Day (21%) as alternative names”

  5. Peter F

    @jimhaz, your arguments speak of your own unwillingness to put yourself in the place of those who descend from the original inhabitants at the time of the colonists’ arrive.

    Try, just for a moment, to view this question as Ian Macfarlane did on the ABC last night when he spoke of the English actions in Scotland after Culloddin.

    I was surprised and delighted to hear him acknowledge the possibility that the date of ‘Australia Day’ as we know it might be offensive to indigenous Australians.

  6. diannaart

    Jimhaz

    Apart from being “egotistical”, those who support a rethink on Australia Day’s present date should just keep their heads down – or to put it another way “shut the f*ck up”? That’s what you are saying, Jimhaz?

    Getting used to hearing that type of rubbish talk, not because I’m black, which I am not, but because I’m female and have been told my issues regarding equality aren’t important and/or that I’m just “seeking attention” or “wanting power” or I have misunderstood everything and can’t take a joke or something, anything really just to put me in place.

    Jimhaz have you thought of telling the now adults abused by paedophiles they should stop attracting attention to their issues, also?

    Have you ever been unjustly treated and then had your day where the injustice was acknowledge? Believed? And you treated with respect?

  7. Kaye Lee

    There are some similarities here to the marriage equality debate in that we are being asked to understand the injustice felt by a minority.

    As far as I can judge, Australians don’t have an attachment to that particular date – they have an attachment to a piss up on a day off when it is warm. We only started celebrating it on that particular date in 1994 – it used to be the closest Monday to give us a long weekend. The comment that many migrants find it significant because that is the day they became citizens could apply to any other day just as easily.

    I also think you are downplaying the significant message it would send to our indigenous community – terra nullius was a shockingly arrogant dismissal.

  8. Robbie

    Here’s a stupid experiment: Each year try a different date for Australia day, note the degree of satisfaction by way of postal survey. After 365 years collate results and decide the most popular day.

    Like I said, a stupid experiment, but is what’s happening now that much different?

    Alternatively, the government could sit down with Indigenous reps and come to an agreement based on sharing sovereignty as hinted at in the Uluru Statement. Peter Garrett and the Oils might even be invited to update their original song ‘Treaty’ to reflect the maturation of the idea into a reality.
    Alternatively, keep following MSMs bouncing ball of distraction about which day is best for Aus Day. You can do that for the rest of your days, or, until the day you see through their game. No pressure.

  9. diannaart

    Alternatively, the government could sit down with Indigenous reps and come to an agreement based on sharing sovereignty as hinted at in the Uluru Statement.

    I prefer the second option – surprise, surprise.

    I agree the first is stupid, nonetheless, a populist tactic to divert attention from the issue – ignoring the big oops that the 26th was actually the day the British enforced the “somewhere to dump those revolting peasants” without so much as a by your leave to the locals or even the “revolting peasants”.

    Sitting down with the original people of Australia and working out a solution… nice to dream, but not part of the capacity of our hostile and racist feds.

  10. flogga

    Midnight Oil don’t haven’t got a song called ‘Treaty’ Robbie …

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