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Yesterday, Australia celebrated its national holiday: Australia Day. This has provoked a flurry of protest from various corners of our society, all championed by The Age newspaper. These people say that January 26, as the anniversary of the day the first white settlers arrived in 1788, is a terrible day to have a national holiday. After all, when the white settlers arrived, indigenous people were forced to get off their land, and it’s so inconsiderate of us to celebrate that event. It must be moved!

The Age is now calling on Australians to have a “national conversation” on the matter, and if we must, then here is my contribution. I think that changing Australia Day would be a big waste of time and effort. January 26 already is Australia Day, and there’s no real reason to change it. What would it achieve? Will indigenous people magically gain better living conditions? Will the gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous citizens magically close? Will civil war break out if the date isn’t changed?

No is the answer to all of the above. Perhaps you could say it’s the principle of the matter — that Australia Day being the anniversary of the day that white people turned up is a dumb idea. That it may be, but do you have any better ideas? In all these impassioned arguments for moving Australia Day, I haven’t seen a single better idea. Making the day commemorate federation sounds like a good idea, but that day is already a public holiday. It’s called “New Year’s Day”. Are we going to reschedule the new year? Unless we are, Australia Day can’t be moved to then. Well, it can, but then we’d lose a public holiday. Who wants that?

Every other proposal I’ve seen makes no sense. May 27, for the day on which constitutional discrimination against indigenous citizens was abolished? February 13, for the day the Rudd government apologised to indigenous people? Well, if you want to choose an event applicable to only 1% of the population, go ahead. If you want to choose an event that is actually applicable to Australia as a whole, keep looking.

Someone who wrote a letter to The Age indicated that the only acceptable day would be one on which Australia became a republic. Seeing as Australia is not a republic, this change could obviously not happen for a while. If (or when) Australia does become a republic, I think that would be an ideal day. But Australia is not a republic, and nor will it soon be a republic… and to be honest, I think there are more pressing concerns for Australia than becoming a republic.

The best date I could think of, while talking to various people, was the day that the various Australian colonies agreed to federate — that is, with the passing of our constitution on July 9, 1900. There are more days one could choose, of course — the day Britain gave us independence, the day we recognised our independence almost eleven years later, etc..

But while you could move the holiday to those days, I still think it would be a wasted effort. January 26 is just a day. If you don’t like celebrating white people’s arrival, celebrate the military coup of 1808. Or, you know, don’t celebrate it at all. Is anyone forcing you to?

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One Comment

  1. Hmm that’s interesting. When it comes to stuff like this, it kind of ticks me off when people make such a big deal about what the date means (in the past) rather than what they should make of the make of the date. Someone once told me that they didn’t want to celebrate Thanksgiving (here in the US) because that’s like celebrating the arrival of the white settlers here in the US which killed off Native Americans. Umm… I don’t go around eating turkey on Thanksgiving to celebrate THAT. In fact, I like to volunteer and help out the less fortunate. I can’t change the injustices of the past but I try to do what I can to make the future better. However, if they don’t want to celebrate it, it’s up to them. I think that’s how I feel about this Australia Day deal too.


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