Today is the 26th of January, it’s Australia Day, a day which marks the landing of the first fleet all the way back in 1788, and the colonisation of this great brown land by the British.
Traditionally, on the day before Australia Day, the Australian of the Year is announced. This year the award has gone to 58-year-old indigenous professor Mick Dodson.
When Professor Dodson was awarded this honour, he seemed quite humbled, but it didn’t last for long. As soon as the ceremony was over, he called for a national conversation about changing the date of Australia Day. It’s hard to know for sure whether Professor Dodson is one of the die-hard “invasion day” protesters, or whether he is just jumping on the bandwagon which the media kept afloat during the week.
The idea of moving Australia Day, our official national day, to some other date on the calendar has been raised numerous times, but it has never really had much support. Sure, we see Aboriginal protests each year about how the 26th of January marks the end of their culture as they knew it, but let’s face it, a whole lot of Aboriginal people, including most if not all of the protesters, live in the country, and under the laws and support of the democratically elected government, which has evolved thanks to the landing of the first fleet in 1788.
Yes, the landing of the first fleet did bring about changes, but so did the end of the “White Australia” policy. Until the end of the “White Australia” policy this was a very British country in many respects…we had our own larrikin character of sorts, but we were still living a very British lifestyle with very British foods, very British customs and very British gardens. The end of “White Australia” brought a wave of immigrants from all corners of the globe (not that a globe really has corners unless you damage it) and brought in massive changes in our culture.
But do you see me jumping up and down whinging that we should strike the day that “White Australia” was abolished, from the calendar because it started a chain of events which altered our culture and our ways of life? Or conversely, do you see me claiming that this was the best day in the history of our nation, and as such we should make it our official national day?
No, of course not, because the idea is ludicrous.
In the US, their official national day is the fourth of July, which they call “Independence Day”, because it’s the day that they officially became independent from Britain, all the way back in 1776. History shows us that the native Americans were not treated well by the people who inhabited the land that makes up that country, but do you ever hear the native Americans whinging about the date being a black mark in history and that there shouldn’t be any celebrations on that day?
No, you don’t.
I fail to see the difference in this country. You can’t tell me that the native Americans were excited at the notion of a bunch of British people coming over to their land and forming a colony, followed by a country. The same goes for our native people.
Despite this, for whatever reason, we keep having this ridiculous discussion about changing the date of Australia Day.
If I entertain the notion for a moment, then I’m forced to ask the question, “to what date should we change it?”
The immediate answer I hear is April 25, ANZAC Day. Well, no. ANZAC Day, apart from being shared with New Zealand, has its own very special and very important message. It is not a day of celebration, it is a day of remembrance and thankfulness.
The day of our independence then…well, err, no. January 1 is not exactly a great day for a celebration of a nation. It would lose all meaning mixed in with the celebrations of an incoming year.
January 26, when it comes down to it, is the day which marks the beginning of the events which started the democracy, the culture, and the way of life that we know and love today.
As much as some of these “Invasion Day” types might like to ignore it, they live and participate in this country’s way of life, they pay taxes, some, like many non-Aboriginal people, gain from the redistribution of those taxes through our welfare system, and almost certainly, they vote. They even accept awards designed to be a part of the celebrations which mark Australia Day.
The 26th of January is the right date for Australia Day. It’s a day on which we can both reflect on and learn from our past, including the rocky relations between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people, and a day to celebrate everything that is great about this wonderful nation of ours.
Today is the 26th of January, and I, for one, am proud to call it Australia Day.