Melbourne’s Yarra Council unanimously voted this week to move it’s citizenship and citizen of the year ceremonies from 26 January to another date and to remove references to ‘Australia Day’ being on 26 January. For all intents and purposes, they’ve moved Australia Day.
As a result, the Federal government has punished them by stripping the council of its citizenship ceremony powers and demonishing the council for being unAunstralian.
But why has this been so controversial? Why are people so angry that this council thinks that having Australia Day on 26 January is disrespectful? Well; let’s talk it through.
Australia Day is the day where we’re all supposed to celebrate everything wonderful about this country. A day when we’re supposed to celebrate the freedoms that this country provides to its people. A public holiday where we get a day off work to do whatever we want.
It’s also the day that the first fleet of British ships arrived in Australia and began to destroy one of the oldest cultures in the world; destroy its traditions, languages, customs, and people.
It’s also the day where invaders decided that the people already living here – the people who had lived here for tens of thousands of years – had no right to their lands nor the right to govern themselves or retain their identities.
It’s also the day that triggered events that led to paternalism, slavery, a stollen generation and a barely failed genocide.
Also the day that triggered events that created health, social and incarceration rates for indigenous people that are disgraceful to this day – figures that consistently mean that indigenous Australians are worse off than most others.
Yet for some reason, despite all the atrocities that came with the British Invasion of Australia, despite a national acknowledgement that the British really, really messed up and a national apology for these atrocities – we somehow still think it’s okay to celebrate our national day on a day that brings the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People of this country great hurt.
Saying that Australia Day should stay where it is because Australia is a great country to live in isn’t good enough.
Saying that it’s a day for everyone to come together isn’t good enough.
Saying that Indigenous Australians have other or better things to worry about isn’t good enough.
Saying that moving Australia Day impacts the naton’s identity isn’t good enough.
We can’t just keep pretending that the destruction caused by the arrival of the first fleet didn’t happen.
We can celebrate how awesome we are on a day that isn’t so inflammatory and controversial. No one will lose anything if we move the day. For some reason though, that suggestion brings out a selfishness masked in patriotism that just doesn’t make sense.
This apparently venerated and entrenched tradition that can’t be messed with isn’t an ancient, immovable tradition. It wasn’t until 1935 that anyone called it ‘Australia Day’ and it wasn’t until 1994 that Australian states and territories began celebrating Australia Day consistently as a public holiday.
To me, the resistence against making the change is due to a lack of respect for the traditional owners of this land and lack of acknowledgement that the actions of our ancestors have caused long-lasting damage. It’s just not good enough.
Moving Australia Day doesn’t mean that we’re all individually to blame for those atrocities – but it does mean that we are respecting historical facts and recognising that the consequences of those actions are still present. It recognise that there is still so much that needs to be done to repair the damage that is done in some way – and that this is the least that we can do.
So let’s not make this such a big deal. Move the day – we’ve got 364 much less offensive days to choose from.
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