Australia Day – an alternative to simply changing the date

Here we are again – 26 January – and even though I’m only a first-generation Aussie, I still feel too uncomfortable to celebrate Australia Day. I want to – I love my country and I’m proud of it – but the history behind 26 January conflicts with the love I feel for my country and my fellow citizens. How can I party when I know there are people around the country remembering that this day also marks the start of the end for so much of their culture, their way of life, their people, and so many of their ancestors?

Over the last two decades, I’ve been increasingly supportive of the ‘change the date’ brigade. I mean – how the hell can we move forward as one nation when the very day we choose to celebrate our oneness is tied to the day Captain Arthur Phillip raised the British flag in 1788 to claim this land from its original inhabitants?

An opinion column in this week’s Sydney Morning Herald by Quandamooka man Wesley Enoch helped me think about the whole thing differently. Elements of his editorial unsettled me – especially the line ‘This country has a habit of forgetting its history.’ As a whitefella, I feel like I’m often being reminded of the things the whitefellas of the past did to our original inhabitants – and for some obscure reason, I so often feel guilty about it, too.

And this is why so many Australians are reluctant and confused about how to celebrate Australia Day.

In his column Enoch also makes mention of ‘a new tradition forming on the evening of January 25 as we gather to reflect on the Indigenous history of this country.’ This inspired a different kind of ‘change the date’ thought in me …

Why should a reflection on the Indigenous history of our country be an undefined, unmarked event of organic growth? Why don’t we mark it with a specific date? I mean, let’s face it – we’re talking about 60,000 years of First Nations’ history, including close to 240 years of colonial history … there’s a lot to remember and reflect on. And a lot to learn from, too.

What if … we redefined and changed the purpose of 26 January. What if 26 January became ‘Reflection Day’ – a day dedicated to learning about and reflecting on our country’s past – all of it. The whole 60,000 years.

We can then change the purpose of Australia Day to be about how all of us – this wonderful, multi-cultural nation – can work together and look to the future, and then we can celebrate that – our togetherness and our shared future.

And rather than having the Australia Day public holiday tied to a date on the calendar, we revert to celebrating it on the last Friday in January, so that we all have one final, happy hurrah before the end of our main summer months? I mean, seriously, what could be more Aussie than that?! To top it off, there will be the occasional year when Reflection Day will fall on that last Friday in January, too – and that will give us the chance to combine our reflections with our celebrations every now and again.

But to truly move forward, we also need to work on defining the meaning of what it means to be an Aussie. These last two years have told me that it’s about how most of us are willing to knuckle down, look after each other and do what we feel is right for the common good – even at the expense of our own happiness and freedoms. These last two years have made me proud to be able to say, ‘I’m an Aussie’ and I want to celebrate that – happily – with all my fellow Aussies.

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