Summer has well and truly hit Australia. School is out, the beaches are packed, barbecues are at the ready - one might argue this is the best time of year for Aussies. However, with the arrival of January comes a certain level of discomfort. An unease with an annual injustice supported by many Australians and, of course, the Government. It takes place each year on January 26th - our national holiday, Australia Day.
This particular date marks the day on which in 1788, Arthur Phillip founded the settler colony of NSW at Sydney Cove. This particular date also marks the beginning of dispossession, discrimination and genocide of Indigenous Australians, who have been living on the land for approximately 60,000 years. Simply put, each year that we celebrate on January 26th, we are actually celebrating the mistreatment of an entire people and culture. As chief executive of Reconciliation Australia Karen Mundine said, “asking Indigenous people to celebrate on January 26 is like asking them to dance on their ancestors’ graves …”
Let’s be honest, national holidays are problematic in any case. They enable and promote dangerous nationalist agendas. We all know that if people cared more about lives than they did about land, the world would be a better place.
Having said that, there is value in celebrating democracy and the rights which many of us often take for granted. For example, Australians ought to acknowledge the significance of our public health care system, Medicare, which ensures that everyone has access to medical support. Australians should also honour important milestones in developing an increasingly democratic country.
The reality is that Australia has a blood stained history. Each date on the calendar marks another massacre, another death, another injustice committed against the Traditional Owners of the land. No choice of date will ever avoid our shameful past. However, it is possible to choose a date that gives all Australians cause to celebrate. More specifically, there are many moments in Australia’s history which we can be proud of for their contribution to the betterment of our society.
Option 1: May 27th
May 27th should be celebrated as one of the most significant moments in Australia’s history. Believe it or not, up until 1967, almost all Indigenous Australians (there were some loopholes in the system) were not able to vote. The Traditional Owners of this country could not have a say in the European-based legal system forced upon them. However, on this date in 1967, Australians voted in a referendum to include Indigenous Australians in the census count, thus acknowledging them as equal citizens. Whilst it is clear that there is a long way to go in trying to right the wrongs of the past and move forward together, choosing this date to celebrate our country and all it has to offer would certainly be a step in the right direction.
Option 2: April 11th
Australian society is a diverse patchwork of cultures, ethnicities and nationalities. The reality is that the majority of people are beneficiaries of multiculturalism. To list the positives of this for Australian society would require its own article. It seems appropriate then, to suggest a historical turning point for our nation; that is, April 11th. On this date in 1973, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam introduced new legislation which abolished the famed White Australia Policy which had plagued our country since Federation. A moment at which our nation evolved to become an increasingly welcoming society should be cause for celebration and therefore, makes this date a worthy competitor for Australia Day.
Option 3: July 3rd
Mabo Day has fast become a significant date on the calendar, especially in schools across the country. Given children are aware of the significance of this day, it seems intolerable that many adults are not. July 3rd, 1992 was the date that Eddie Mabo won his case in the High Court of Australia, thus overturning the legal stance of ‘terra nullius’ (a Latin term, meaning ‘no man’s land’, this was the justification used by the British Commonwealth to take over Australia, despite it already being inhabited by Indigenous Australians). This court case was a major moment in recognising the injustices committed against Aborigines as it legally recognised Native Indigenous land titles. It seems only logical and practical to choose this date, especially as children are taught to appreciate the importance of this moment in Australian history from very early on. That, combined with its current status as a national day, gives Mabo Day a strong chance as the new Australia Day date.
Option 4: December 3rd
Bundistn everywhere should know this date, and if you don’t, it’s time to get reading! On December 3rd, 1854, miners in Ballarat rose up to fight against British colonial rule in Victoria, which overwhelmingly punished the working class on the goldfields with extraordinarily high mining taxes. This short lived uprising became known as the Eureka Stockade and whilst it was largely deemed unsuccessful, its significance to our development as a democratic nation cannot be denied. The great American author, Mark Twain, once wrote of the Eureka Stockade: “It was a revolution—small in size; but great politically; it was a strike for liberty, a struggle for principle, a stand against injustice and oppression”. Why then, would we not consider this as a date worthy of Australia Day?
In fact, it just might be worth asking Indigenous Australians which date might serve as a more inclusive choice. You know, the very same People who have been deeply hurt by the celebration of this date for decades. Perhaps then we can all celebrate what our country has to offer together. Regardless of which date appears more appealing to the reader, one thing is clear: the current choice of date remains a major block in the road to reconciliation and a unified country.