Why do we celebrate Australia on January 26?
As another Australia Day passes, I again ask: why do we celebrate our country on the anniversary of the most horrendous thing to happen to our land?
I don’t feel ashamed to be Australian, but I don’t take any particular pride in being Australian. In the same way I don’t take any particular pride in being British (but I’m certainly not ashamed to be British either, although there are plenty of things Britain and Australia do that I’m not proud of).
It’s the idea of national pride that I struggle with. I don’t see the need to stand up and shout it from the rooftops.
All that said, I feel incredibly lucky that I was born and live in a free and prosperous country (and even luckier that I am a citizen of another). As a human being in Australia I am free, as a woman I am free, I can work, vote, protest, drive, marry who I want (well as long as it’s a man), divorce, go to the beach wearing next to nothing, talk to the opposite sex freely, and the list goes on. These are all things I have taken for granted my entire life, but since travelling to and really understanding the situation in places where women (and men) aren’t afforded the same, I feel lucky that I was born in a country where I am free.
Australia though is not perfect, and this is where I struggle with Australia celebrating national pride on January 26.
January 26 marks the day 229 years ago when Sir Arthur Phillip sailed into Sydney Cove (from around the corner in Botany Bay) and declared the land in the name of King George III… completely disregarding the fact that there were already inhabitants of the land – inhabitants who had been here for tens of thousands of years.
And then the killing began, the mistreatment, the slavery, the denial of rights, and the legacy of that lasts to this day. Levels of Indigenous health, life
expectancy, education and employment all fall far below non-Indigenous levels. And Indigenous people were regulated by the “Flora and Fauna Act” until 1967, that is they weren’t officially considered human beings. Not something I can be in any way proud of.
For many Indigenous Australians January 26 is the date that marks the invasion of their land, and protests have been happening as far back as the 1930s… which is also when the first Australia Day was celebrated, so it’s not exactly an ancient tradition. In fact it has only been a public holiday in every state and territory since 1994.
So the reason people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, protest on January 26 is remind us that after 229 years, we are still not treating everyone in our nation as equal; which is something our nation is supposed to stand for. Something we are supposed to be proud of.
So why can’t we move the day? The idea of being “disloyal” to a date that has only been “celebrated” for less than 90 years is something I can’t understand. It’s a date on the calendar, but one that happens to hold a lot of sorrow for many in our land. I for one don’t want to celebrate what I do like about my country on a day with that weight attached to it.
Perhaps we should finally bring about constitutional recognition for Indigenous people and then move our day to celebrate all the good things about our land to that date. A date that hopefully everyone can feel included in.
For anyone who wants to celebrate being Australian, why does it matter which day you do it on?