If you live in Australia, don’t live under a rock and have consumed any left-of-centre media in the last decade; the celebration of Australia Day on January 26 is, generally, becoming a pretty unpopular thing. January 26, the date the First Fleet of British ships arrived in Sydney establishing the colony of New South Wales, is seen by many Indigenous Australians and increasingly more whites as an “invasion day” and the beginning of a genocide against the First Nations. A genocide which many argue is still occurring.
In 2017, however, the advocacy to change the date is hitting a point where the issue can no longer be ignored. Not only are there rallies planned for the day (expected to be better attended than previous years), there have been boycotts of several events which happen to fall on January 26. Some of these events don’t even have anything to do with Australia Day by name, however the mere fact they are on that day have had some organisers being accused of such things as ‘celebrating genocide’.
Australia’s youth radio station; the government funded (and normally frighteningly PC) Triple J, have always held their annual Hottest 100 music poll on Australia Day. This year though they will do it under a cloud of controversy as many artists who are involved in the poll have come out in support of changing the date. Triple J held discussions about changing the date of the Hottest 100, the biggest music poll in the world, but agreed that it would stay on January 26. This has led to boycotts of the station and protests on Facebook event pages for Hottest 100 parties. The vibe in some parts of the country is now not only is Australia Day racist but so is listening to the Hottest 100.
Whether you agree or not, one thing is for certain; people are angry and something has to change.
If Australia was at all serious about building bridges between the Indigenous and Non-Indigenous communities we would gladly unite as a country and encourage our elected officials to change the date of our national holiday. If you have a problem with changing the date because of ‘tradition’ you’d do well to remember that this tradition is only a couple of centuries old. Indigenous traditions in this land go back tens of thousands of years with January 26 seen as the date where an assault on these traditions, way of life and general well being of Aboriginal people started. How are we supposed to act like this holiday is inclusive of all Australians when the opposite is clearly the case?
In an attempt at cultural inclusivity the city of Fremantle in Western Australia have changed the date of their Australia Day celebrations this year to January 28. The day is meant to provide “an opportunity for all Australians to come together and celebrate the multicultural diversity of our country” rather than signify the arrival of white Europeans in what is now Sydney. This has, obviously, been criticised as pandering to political correctness. However, perhaps more unexpectedly, the change of date has been criticised by some Aboriginal leaders, accusing Fremantle council of getting involved in black politics.
Other suggested dates have been mooted as replacements with some seen as too regional or politicised. One thing is for sure; we need to consult with Indigenous leaders and communities before any change is made. White Australia has frozen out black voices from political discourse for far too long and, especially on issues like Australia Day, Indigenous Australia must be a key factor in how we choose to go forward.
For too long we have neglected the thoughts of the indigenous community about celebrating our national day on the 26th of January. If we’re going to make any change it needs to be something that the majority of people can agree on and the First Nations deem acceptable. There is no point in changing the date if it’s just going to face race-based backlash down the track. In the spirit of having a day of national unity we must find a solution which includes everyone, otherwise there is literally no point in having a national day at all. A celebration is not inclusive if it antagonises an important part of the community.
Ham-fisted solutions won’t satisfy advocates for change but with enough consultation we might be able to find a day where we can all be proud to celebrate being Australian. Until then expect more boycotts and protests until we change the date.