Australia Day is, for the vast majority of Australians, a day to celebrate the nation we have become. Yet the date on which it is celebrated, January 26, is odd, and to some, odious.
Most of our national holiday/celebration days are celebrated on a day that has historical significance that is relevant to the celebration. Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Christmas are related to significant events in the life of Jesus. Anzac Day is commemorated on the anniversary of troops landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Yet Australia day is not celebrated on the day the modern nationstate Australia came into existence.
Australia has been inhabited for 60,000 years, and for most of that time consisted of many indigenous nations. The modern nation we know as Australia came into being with Federation on January 1, 1901. Australia Day is commemorated on January 26, which is not the anniversary of the founding of Australia, but the anniversary of the day Britain claimed sovereignty over Australia.
It is understandably offensive to many indigenous people. The British invasion of Australia and the ongoing displacement of its indigenous nations has had an ongoing legacy of disadvantage and deprivation amongst many of our indigenous people. Every February the Prime Minister’s Department releases the “close the gap” report, which highlights the gulf in health, employment and other well-being outcomes between indigenous and nonindigenous Australians. The only coherent explanation for this is the ongoing consequences of being displaced.
January 26 is therefore doubly inappropriate as the day to commemorate Australia Day. On the one hand it is a date that has no correlation with the birth of the modern Australian nationstate, and on the other it commemorates a date in our history that marked the beginning of the decimation of our indigenous nations.
None of us would be harmed by moving Australia Day to a different date. For most of us moving the day will make little difference, but for some of us it would make a huge difference. So why don’t we just get on with moving it?