To build a strong community, the persons within must feel respected. All persons must know that their feelings and needs are acknowledged and respected. No country should run roughshod over some of its people just because they’re in the minority.
There are good reasons for some Australians to feel 26 January represents the start of a two hundred year period of darkness and despair.
So let’s drop the bulldust surrounding 26 January and consider it rationally.
26 January 1788 was the start of the dispossession and systematic extermination of the indigenous Australians by the arriving settlers and this continued for over two hundred years. Extermination is a strong word, but it is accurate. During the discussions on federation, Aboriginal Australians were denied natural rights as they were considered lesser people.
No country thrives when the powerful continue with decisions that mistreat a section of the community it governs. We now understand how indigenous people were disenfranchised, and it is past time to address these issues in earnest. It is improper for our national day to continue to reinforce a policy of ignoring the existence of people who find the current date insensitive.
As Australians, two of our strengths are being adaptable and being inclusive – let’s use these strengths and end this division.
As stated on australiaday.org.au “The tradition of having Australia Day as a national holiday on 26 January is a recent one. Not until 1935 did all the Australian states and territories use that name to mark that date. Not until 1994 did they begin to celebrate Australia Day consistently as a public holiday on that date.” Every year we are told by some that we must celebrate Australia Day on 26 January because it is traditional. In reality it is just a very recent invention. 26 January1788 is the date the English landed in what is now New South Wales, the other states did not consider that date the start of the nation.
26 January is considered by some Australians as a date to commemorate The Invasion and to celebrate the survival of indigenous people and their cultural identity despite systematic attempts to destroy both.
However justified that idea and understanding of 26 January is not an inclusive one. It tells the majority of Australians that they are part of an invading force. It alienates those born in Australia since 1788 from their homeland. Unintentionally that idea reinforces the very notion of otherness separating Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders Australians from other Australians.
So let’s turn 26 January on its head and make it inclusive. Let’s celebrate 40,000+ years of human survival in Australia. But most of all let’s celebrate our shared history of surviving tyranny, bigotry, and imperialism. As Australian’s let us commemorate the indomitable spirit of Aboriginals & Torres Strait Islanders, the migrants seeking a better life, the refugees seeking safety, and those like the convicts & settlers seeking freedom and a second chance. Let us celebrate those who survived and worked to build a nation of respect, inclusion, and democracy. Let’s demonstrate these principles by respecting our indigenous fellows and accepting that 26 January is not a good date for our national day.
As an alternative national day, I do have a suggestion. Clearly the starting day of federation is out; it was 1 January 1 1901. Let’s just say a national day after New Year’s Eve would not work.
However, there is another date that reflects our national character: 3 March 1986.
In 1985 the Australian Parliament informed the UK Parliament and Privy Council that they would no longer have any power over Australian law, and sought the passage of the Australia Act 1986 to make it so. Every year 3 March goes unremarked, but it was the day a mature country formally and finally became independent of the UK. This independence was achieved not by violent revolution but through negotiation and a quiet act of democracy.
In 2016, after hundreds of years of argument and animosity, the Christian churches are working towards a consensus on the dates to celebrate Easter. Humans can overcome history and difference and by respecting each other’s feelings and beliefs build a strong community.
So let’s move Australia day to 3 March; we’ll have our ceremonies like citizenship and national honours on that day. Maybe this change will demonstrate our acknowledgement of the struggle for survival by Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Australians. Let’s keep 26 January as a day to celebrate our shared humanity and all our survival stories.