There is much debate about whether the 26th of January is an appropriate and inclusive date on which to hold an Australian national celebration.
The history of Australia Day as a public holiday shows us that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities feel strongly against it, with protests and boycotts having been held for decades–so, why has nothing changed?
While there is great division, the solution begins with an open dialogue and having a hard, authentic look at what we are celebrating and why.
First Nations people have every right to feel angry, sad, or insulted at a day of commemoration being perceived as a party. Still, we cannot begin to find mutually respectful answers without a frank talk about what Australia Day means and what it says about our nation.
How to Have Meaningful Conversations About Australia Day
It can be challenging to have a discussion with a friend, family member, or colleague who dismisses the argument for changing Australia Day from the 26th of January. A real conversation demands active listening and acknowledgement that others may have different opinions or ideas than ourselves.
However, the starting point is to accept that this date is not a celebration for every Australian. It is a day of great loss and grief for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The reality is that Australia Day celebrates the date on which British colonisers raised a flag in New South Wales, and detaching events and parties from history is disingenuous and misleading.
First Nations cultures and beliefs have a deep heritage ingrained in Australia and are living cultures and community systems that have survived profound oppression and loss. Taking the time to acknowledge the past, see the systematic oppression that so damaged Indigenous communities, and giving space for opposing opinions is important–rather than doggedly pursuing a date that has only been considered a national celebration in the very recent past.
Arguments for Retaining the 26th of January as Australia Day
Every year, the same points are rehashed across the media. If we unpick those arguments and look at them clearly, we can foster greater understanding and address sticking points with maturity and respect.
An increasing number of community leaders are considering what to do on Australia Day to show respect to Indigenous Australians, so there are signs of progress.
Indeed, there is much to celebrate about being Australian. Still, positioning this event on the 26th of January signifies that the British invasion was the starting point of the pride and identity of being Australian, which could not be further from the truth.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been caretaking and thriving on the land for over 60,000 years. The date we now know as Australia Day is an inauthentic celebration of the origins of our modern-day culture.
Many also feel that events that occurred over 200 years ago should not influence our decision-making as a national community. We would address this by explaining that the legacy of colonisation has ongoing ramifications and brought about practises that attempted to erase First Nations people, languages, and cultures.
Rebuilding that heritage and the extraordinary survival of enslaved peoples following massacres, slavery, and stolen land is not something that any period of time can smooth over. A final point is that adjusting the date of Australia Day would do little to enact proactive change, equality, and inclusivity, and there is a truth in that tokenism is not a force for effective change.
However, by showing understanding, respect, and a willingness to learn and grow from our knowledge of how Indigenous communities perceive Australia Day, we begin to lay the pathway for a unified future.
The Importance of Australia Day Debates
No matter how challenging and complex the debate about Australia Day may be, it is a long overdue conversation that requires a tangible outcome rather than opposing arguments being passed back and forth.
A national day should include all communities within that nation. As it stands, many feel that Australia Day is held at a time of great insensitivity, effectively sacrificing the needs, pain, and feelings of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for the enjoyment of others.
We do not yet have the correct answer because any solution that addresses the imbalance of perceptions relies on a desire for positive change among all parties. However, welcoming an exchange of views and a discussion about the right way to move forward is imperative for a nation that embraces unity.