I didn’t intend to start this blog with such a potentially divisive topic, but this is how the timing worked out and I think it’d be remiss of me if I didn’t at least say something. So:
Disclaimer: I am not a journalist, a politician, or anything like an expert on – well – anything. This is an opinion blog only. Discussion is welcome.
I don’t remember my family ever being “into” Australia Day. Sure, my parents would have the day off from work and we’d probably go for a bushwalk or something, but it never had the same emphasis that we’d put on holidays like Christmas/New Year’s or Easter – or, for a more Aussie example, ANZAC day, which tended to be celebrated because it was also my uncle’s birthday. So I’ve never been able to understand the attitude of people who treat Australia Day as somehow holy, sanctified, untouchable. Surely it’s just another chance to have a day off, get together with your friends and family, and eat too much? But no, we are told, Australia Day is so much more than that – it is the day we celebrate the founding of our great nation, the colonization of this continent by Western culture, and to not celebrate it, or – God forbid – to change the date would be to change the very nature of what it is to be an Australian.
You’ll forgive the dreadful straw-man I just set up there, but honestly that’s how conservatives sound to me at the moment. Just this morning our deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, said that objections to Australia Day being celebrated on January 26th are “political correctness gone mad”. But that’s nonsense. Australia Day is, and always has been, a controversial holiday. Protests against the date go back as far as the 1930s, and the alternative name, Invasion Day, was coined in the 1980s by Indigenous Australian protesters. So claiming that objections to the date of Australia day are somehow a modern invention of PC culture is shortsighted, to say the least. But then again, perhaps ignoring the protests of Indigenous Australians and blithely celebrating white Australian culture is just in the best traditions of the holiday.
The thing is, celebrating Australia Day on January 26th feels like a bit of a gaff for conservatives too – it’s the date that the First Fleet landed here to establish a penal colony. Is our right wing so determined to cling to the “traditional” Australian values that got their ancestors brought here in the first place? Because I’m not particularly keen to celebrate being descended from petty criminals, and I certainly don’t like being reminded by my calendar that my ancestors were complicit in the rape and desecration of some of the oldest cultures on Earth.
There’s no shortage of other dates to choose from. Several have been suggested, some rather less satisfactory than others. Federation day is out; our federation was officially formed on January 1st, which is already a public holiday. So is ANZAC day, another proposed alternative. But is there really any reason not to simply choose a date and move it? Why not a date in the spring, when the weather’s starting to warm up but before it starts melting the pavement? Or, as has been suggested, May 8th? Sure, the date doesn’t mean a lot to most Aussies, but if you say it fast enough it sounds just right, mate.
The alternative, of course, is to accept what Australia Day actually is celebrating and change the name. So go ahead, bundy on down the servo for a slab of Tooheys, chuck some snags on the barbie, teach the kids to play beach cricket, and have a bonza Invasion Day.