Personally, I like Australia. Beaches? Yes. Cities? Slay. Humour? No kidding. We’ve got some of the coolest nature around – and our coffee isn’t half bad either. But I’m not saying it’s perfect. Cost of living crisis? For sure. Crime rates? High. Racism? Unfortunately. And don’t even get me started on our blood-soaked history.
I want to celebrate my country, believe me, I do. But I can’t do that without acknowledging that our “boundless plains to share” weren’t ours to begin with – and still aren’t.
Colonisers stole this land. Indigenous sovereignty was never ceded. And we still don’t have a treaty – no surprise when 60% of the population voted “No” to an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
Can we really celebrate a country that consistently lets down its Indigenous citizens?
The disparity and disadvantages that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples face in Australia are appalling. On average, First Nations people are expected to live 8 years less than white Australians. They’re overpoliced and overrepresented in the prison system – to the point where some NSW courts are freezing their criminal law services. The rate of homelessness for Indigenous Australians is 8.8 times higher than non-Indigenous Australians. Their rate of suicide is 2.5 times higher.
You cannot sit here and tell me that Australia is a land of equal opportunity when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have an unemployment rate 23% higher than non-Indigenous Australians.
And yes – I know there are SOME good things in Australia worth celebrating. But why do it on the day that reminds the most disadvantaged and marginalised people in Australia of the trauma they’ve endured since colonisation?
Now, if you answered that question with “Tradition!”, you’d be sorely mistaken.
The date of January 26 has a long and tedious history in Australia. The 26th of January 1788 was when the Union Jack was first raised by Captain Phillip in Sydney Cove – on Australian shores he claimed as his own, although 60,000 years of Aboriginal history beg to differ. Contrary to popular opinion, the 26th wasn’t actually the day the British arrived in Australia – that was a week or so earlier, on the 18th of January.
By 1808, the 26th was used as a day of merriment, called “Foundation Day”. By 1818, the first official celebration was held in New South Wales. And by 1838, it was declared a public holiday for the state. But by no means was this a national holiday. “Foundation Day” took a while to catch on in other states, and wasn’t necessarily celebrated on the 26th, with states instead opting to put it wherever a long weekend would fit.
“Australia Day” itself was actually coined in 1915 as a day to raise funds for wounded soldiers – on the 30th of July. It ran for three years.
Come January 26,1938, the 150th anniversary of Australian colonisation, and the name “Australia Day” had caught on in all states as they vamped up for a big celebration. But it wasn’t just “Australia Day”. The 26th was also declared a “Day of Mourning”, commemorating “150 years of misery and degradation imposed upon the original native inhabitants by the white invaders of this country.” The Day of Mourning was paired with posters and a silent protest by Indigenous Australians.
Australia Day wasn’t officially recognised as January 26 all the way until 1994, when all states made it a public holiday. Indigenous Australians have been observing the 26th as Invasion Day since 1938 – so ‘tradition’ isn’t exactly the strongest argument here.
I get it. You love a public holiday. I do too. But it doesn’t really give off a celebratory vibe when a good portion of the country is in mourning.
I’m obviously not the only one who feels this way. An Australia Day staple, the Triple J Hottest 100, was permanently moved in 2018 to the fourth weekend in January so that all could celebrate.
Similarly, Woolworths recently announced they wouldn’t stock Australia Day merch. This decision copped a lot of flak, including Opposition Leader Peter Dutton calling for a national boycott of Woolies, but CEO Brad Banducci stood by his decision, citing his abundance of left-over stock after every January 26.
Support for Australia Day is slowly diminishing. It’s not just merch. It’s people realising that to celebrate our country, everyone has to be invited. You can’t just only celebrate the good parts. That’s not how history works. You take the good with the bad, and when the bad outweighs the good, you need to take a long hard look as to why.
January 26th is coming up fast, and it’s important to keep the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mob in mind. Support Blak businesses. Go to protests. Listen to Indigenous artists. Promote Indigenous voices. Have those hard conversations. Take a stand for what you believe in.
Someone has to.