At one time, I used to support the idea of changing Australia Day because I felt this would be a healing gesture towards First Australians, but meanwhile I don’t think this would achieve what it sets out to do. In fact I think it would be detrimental for these reasons:
1) Changing the day runs the risk of effacing the voices that remind us all of the realities that European settlement meant for the historical and cultural trajectory of the indigenous peoples of Australia. Australia Day is a perfect platform for this historical truth.
2) Redesignation of Australia Day would be divisive, creating a sense of Australia Day for non-Aboriginals and something else for the indigenous peoples. We aren’t two Australias, but one, warts and all.
3) The day modern Australia was founded, as marked by the landing of the First Fleet, should be seen as a day of mourning for all by dint of the events, and should remain so. It was a moment of great tragedy and despair for most of the people involved. As we know, it marked the beginning of the shocking treatment of the traditional owners of this country. But it was also a terrible event for the convicts on the First Fleet, who certainly did not choose or want to be here. I doubt that the soldiers and administrators who came with them wanted to be either. They all suffered great privation, and the convicts encountered horrendous treatment, which continued into the next century, Australia has grown out of the muck of an appalling social experiment with consequences still echoing today. For some that past is now distant and we blossom. For others, however, that past is only yesterday.
Australia Day marks the moment in our modern history when people of many cultures and backgrounds unwillingly came together in conflict and hardship on these shores. It has never been easy, and although the First Australians have undeniably borne the brunt of these events in painful and debilitating ways even to this day, what Australia Day should be about for us all is the willingness to recognise what this modern nation was born of, both good and bad, and the desire to move forward together towards our common benefit.
In my view, Australia Day should begin all over the country with a Sorry Ceremony, move through the day with events reminding us of the good and the bad of our past, and in the evening culminate in festivities that show we accept who we are and that celebrate the promise of our shared future.
© “Cate Kimberley” and Word and Affect, 2018