This Saturday, January 26, is Australia Day - Australia's national day, celebrating all things Aussie. But is it? Celebrating all things Aussie, that is? Controversy surrounding the date and day has always existed, but in more recent years the #ChangeTheDate debate has increased, with more and more people voicing their wish for the date of our national day to be changed to be more inclusive of all Australians. Here's a look into Australia Day, why it's celebrated on January 26, and why changing the date is an important debate to be had, and one you need to get involved in.
Why January 26?
The roots of Australia's national day goes all the way back to 1788 with the arrival of the First Fleet - the convict settlers who would now call this continent their home as an open-air British prison.
After Captain James Cook laid eyes on the Australian mainland and mapped it in April 1770 - because "discovered" is not the correct term, he didn't discover a continent that was already inhabited by people for thousands of years - the British government didn't have any direct plans for the distant land. That was until America declared independence and Britain no longer had a place to ship it's convicts. Prisons began to overflow, and new colonies were put into consideration. Australia, or New South Wales as it was called, was not a first choice, but as other ideas fell short, became one of the few remaining options.
The First Fleet, consisting of 11 ships - 2 warships, 6 transporters and 2 store ships - carried 759 convicts, and 4 companies of marines, civil officers and free people, totaling 1000-1500 people. It departed from Portsmouth on 13 May 1787, spending 250 days at sea and arriving on the New South Wales coastline in mid-January 1788
January 26 marks the day that Arthur Phillips sailed ashore with a small contingent from the ships, raising the Union Jack at Port Jackson in the name of Great Britain, establishing a penal colony with the First Fleet. The convicts themselves gradually made their way to land over the next two weeks.
And it is on this anniversary that we celebrate Australia Day.
History of Australia Day
The celebration of Australia Day didn't just come into existence in 1789 on the first anniversary of European settlement, in particular because we weren't known as Australia until the 1800s. In the early days of settlement, January 26 was known as 'First Landing Day' or 'Foundation Day', and mainly celebrated by the colony of New South Wales. As the other colonies grew, they celebrated their own foundation and proclamation days.
As Joy Damousi, Melbourne University History Professor, told SBS New in January 2018, "In the first few decades, it was very much seen as a New South Wales event."
In Sydney in 1804, drinking and anniversary dinners became customary under the names 'First Landing Day' and 'Foundation Day.' In 1818, Governor Lachlan Macquarie officially declared the day a public holiday in celebration of the 30th anniversary. Just a year later, on the recommendation of Captain Matthew Flinders, the name 'Australia' was adopted for the continent, with the British Admiralty agreeing to the name in 1824.
The term 'Australia Day' was first used in prominence during World War One when in 1915 it was decided to hold a fund-raising day to support the war effort. It was held on Friday 30 July 1915, then subsequently on Friday 28, Friday 27, and Friday 26 in 1916, 1917 and 1918 respectively.
Victoria was the first state to adopt 'Australia Day' as January 26 in 1931, thanks to lobbying by the Australian Natives Association, and by 1935 all states were celebrating the day on that date.
However, in 1938, January 26 also took on a new name. Not only did the year mark 150 years since European arrival, it also marked the first time the day was known as a 'Day of Mourning' by the Indigenous population. Similarly, the day has also been called 'Invasion Day' and 'Survival Day'.
Over the course of the 20th century, Australia Day was held on the Monday closest to January 26, giving Australian's a long weekend at the end of Summer. For the Bicentenary in 1988, the government decided to move it to January 26 itself, which was a Tuesday, as a one off for the milestone.
Australia Day, in it's current form as being celebrated on January 26, officially came into existence in just 1994, a whole quarter of a century ago.
So for everyone saying that Australia Day on January 26 is 'tradition that shouldn't change', it's not a long-held tradition that you seem to believe it is.
The Rise of #ChangeTheDate
While many politicians see the date change debate as a recent thing, it's roots truly begin in 1938 with the first 'Day of Mourning'. The day saw over 100 Indigenous people gathered at the Australia Hall in Sydney for an Aborigines Conference. Since that day, support for Invasion/Survival Day has only increased.
In 1988, the Bicentenary, a large gathering of Aboriginal people in Sydney led Invasion Day commemorations, making the anniversary of the loss of Indigenous culture and life. These protests and commemorations have continued ever since, with an estimated tens of thousands present at the 2018 Invasion Day march in Melbourne.
While the day is marked as the anniversary of European colonisation, it's also the day that the First Australian’s, who had lived on this land for at least 60,000 years, lost their homeland to white settlers. It's a day that has always been seen by Indigenous people as the beginning of their abhorrent treatment - massacres, introduction of disease, rape and abuse, the removal of children, and their overall treatment as second class citizens.
Even to this day, there is a substantial gap between the Indigenous population and white Australians. A gap that the government has yet to close.
In recent years, #ChangeTheDate has seen a drastic increase on social media as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike have expressed their opinions on why the date of Australia's national day should be changed.
Many influential and well-known names have spoken of their support of the Change The Date movement, however most high-up politicians have rejected the idea that Australia Day needs to be held on another date.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorton said in August 2017: "It [26 January] does commemorate the first British penal colony established in Australia and, also, I believe, is a source of great celebration for Australians right up to the current day."
Then-Primer Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in January 2018: "A free country debates its history, it does not deny it... I'm disappointed by those who want to change the date of Australia Day, seeking to take a day that unites Australia and Australians and turn it into one that divides us."
And former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said in January 2017: "I'm just sick of these people who every time they want to make us feel guilty about it. They don't like Christmas, they don't like Australia Day, they're just miserable... and I wish they'd crawl under a rock and hide for a little bit."
On top of that, current Prime Minister Scott Morrison has vowed that his government will not be making any changes to the date, going so far as to force councils to hold Citizenship Ceremonies on January 26 from 2020 onward. Any council who refused to do so will lose their Citizenship Ceremony rights. All this comes off the back of many councils around the country choosing to hold Australia Day and Citizenship Ceremonies on alternative days, acknowledging the significance of the day to Indigenous peoples.
Ah ScoMo, nothing like forcing Councils to participate in Australia Day to unite the country!
We DO Need To Change The Date
Every time I read over that Barnaby Joyce quote it makes me angry. I hate to break it to you Barnaby, but I do like Christmas, I love it actually, and, in essence, I like Australia Day. It is important to celebrate our great country and come together a a nation. Just not on January 26. Those who want a change aren't going to "crawl under a rock." In fact, the number of supporters is only going to grow.
Consider for a moment what would actually change about Australia Day, if we were to shift the date?
At its core, Australia Day is about celebrating our nation, how lucky we are to live here and our vast history. It’d still be the same day of national celebration, filled with Australia Day Awards, breakfasts, citizenship ceremonies, concerts, BBQs, games of backyard cricket and trips down the river – it’d just be on another date. And if you look throughout Australian history, you’ll find that there a more dates that hold more national significance and national inclusiveness than January 26 – dates that would work just as well, if not better, as our national day.
In reality January 26 really celebrates the formation of the Colony of New South Wales, rather than the nation of Australia, making it lack national significance. Why are we celebrating our NATIONAL day on New South Wales’s birthday?
As I said, there’s plenty of dates that are better suited and have more national significance that could be used as our national day – there’s January 1 which marks the birth of modern Australia with Federation; March 3 which marks the Australia Acts commencement, sometimes referred to as Australia’s Independence Day; May 9 which marks the opening of the first Federal Parliament; July 9 which is Constitution Day and marks the day that Queen Victoria gave her assent to the Constitution of Australia; October 24 which marks the day that Henry Parkes, the Father of Federation, gave his pivotal speech at Tenterfield; December 3 which marks the Eureka Stockade and the birthplace of Australian democracy; or December 12 which marks the recommendation that the name of Australia be adopted.
There’s many who argue that changing the date is rewriting history, but it’s actually acknowledging the full history of January 26 – the date that not only saw the arrival of white settlers, but the date an entire Indigenous population saw their homeland invaded. Australians come from all walks of life, and our national day should be one that allows all Australians to celebrate, rather than divide us.
January 26 will always be a significant part of Australia history. No ones trying to completely wipe it off the calendar, despite what several politicians will have you believe. Changing the date just recognises that January 26 isn’t all sunshine and daisies for all Australians.
How can we celebrate 'Australia Day', when, as it currently stands, it excludes a large group of people - our First Australians, who’s ancestry in this country spans hundreds, if not thousands, of generations.. Europeans settlers came to this land uninvited and nearly wiped out one of the oldest races in human history. So why are we celebrating that? Why is this date meant to bring people together when it's been tearing the country apart since 1788?
Changing the date isn't going to right all the wrongs or magically solve all of our nation's race problems, but it's at least a step in the right direction. If the government can't even sit down and discuss this date issue, how will they be able to sit down and discuss the bigger Indigenous issues?
Aboriginal singer Dan Sultan said during an episode of Q&A in 2017: “I think one of those practical things to do is to stop ignoring Aboriginal people when they tell you what we’re looking for and what we need … This is me as an Aboriginal person telling you how an Aboriginal person feels and you’re telling me I don’t feel that way.”
Surely it’s time for those in power to actually listen to what is being asked of them, rather than just trying to tune it out.
Isn't about time we took a step in the right direction and included EVERYONE in our national day of celebration?
See You Soon