It isn’t a quiz answer from the film Slumdog Millionaire but January 26 is one of India’s national days celebrating independence from colonial Britain. It is also Australia Day. The difference is that our day is the anniversary of European occupation in 1788, known by many as invasion day.
An online debate about the appropriateness of this date was already simmering before indigenous leader Mick Dobson was named Australian of the Year on 25 January 2009. The old left position was captured by John at En Passant:
Australia Day perpetuates our founding myths and enslaves our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. In the spirit of true reconciliation let’s abolish this celebration of genocide. Let’s instead celebrate the 65000 years of indigenous history and their stewardship of this land. And pay the rent.
Australia Day -a celebration of genocide
Harry Clarke, on his self-titled blog, aired his strong opposition to a change:
Australia day is viewed by certain backward aboriginal groups as Invasion Day – they want the date changed – (that would improve things?) presumably to a ‘year zero’ – but how do you date the Dreamtime? Well I have no idea but who should care about such myths anyway? Attempting to change the date would be a move by the Rudd Government I would favour – they would then be thrown out of office. Go on Kevin try to change that date! Aboriginal Australians would not have been better off living under Indonesian or Chinese control and enjoy better living conditions and prospects as a consequence of the advent of white settlement. Aboriginals need to make a go of it. Many are.
Jack the Insider, who blogs anonymously for News Corporation, sought a middle position, arguing for two national days:
26th January is not a day of celebration for indigenous Australians, many of whom prefer to refer to that space on the calendar as Invasion Day. The reality is that the men and women of the First Fleet, under Governor Phillip’s orders, sought empathy and understanding with the natives they encountered there: the Eora people. The degradation and brutality would occur later.
Australia Day – why not have two?
There are very few indigenous Australian bloggers who comment on politics regularly. One site is Whenua Fenua Enua Vanua, ‘revolutionary anti-colonilaism & anti-capitalism in the Pacific’. Ana posted a YouTube song Invader Captain Cook by Angus Rabbit:
Her post includes a reprise of an earlier article ‘Captain Cook, Joseph Banks and smallpox’ by John Tracey. It alleges a policy of deliberate infection of aborigines in the early years of white settlement. There is no shortage of alleged “wild conspiracy stories”, to use John's words, about colonial Australia's treatment of indigenous people.
Mick Dobson’s call for a national conversation about Australia day and its timing has brought the kind of swift blogger reaction that usually accompanies all indigenous controversies.
A less than subtle response came from kevgillett.net a blog that states clearly on its banner: “If you can read this page, thank a Teacher. If you are reading it in English, thank a Soldier” :
I don’t care that Pat is black but I do care that he puts the colour of his skin before his nationality.
We’re all Australians mate, and the vast majority of us are very happy with the date of Australia Day. Amongst other things it marks the day your race started coming out of the stone age and if you don’t see that as a positive then go back to the Simpson Desert and revert to eating goannas – in another million years or so you might even invent the bow and arrow and become more proficient at hunting.
If you blanche at that thought, then get back to the job at hand of lifting the quality of life of your people. It must include getting rid of the poor bugger me mentality and joining mainstream Australia. Agitate to get your people out of the outstations and into the towns and cities where the schools, medical centres and jobs can be found.
At Public Polity, Sam Clifford argues for a date that will celebrate both reconciliation and a new Australian republic:
… it needs to be the date of the adoption of a new constitution which has been updated to reflect the Australia in which we live, the Australia which has been before us and the Australia we can be together. We need a treaty with the indigenous nations (all of them negotiated individually) and a recognition that it is the people of Australia who are sovereign over themselves.
Should we move Australia Day?
This would certainly be in line with India where January 26 officially celebrates their becoming a Republic.
Former Australian Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett has a similar perspective:
But it is not only Indigenous Australians who feel that 26th January is not the best day to celebrate our unity as a nation, as Ron Barassi’s views make clear. Many of the millions of Australians who are not of British heritage are also likely to find another day more meaningful. Plenty of other people who, like me, have some British ancestry, also feel the same.
Nor are those concerns limited to what 26th January symbolises when it comes to the dispossession, killing and discrimination endured by Indigenous Australians which flowed from the date in 1788.
The debate on changing Australia Day
Ron Barassi is an Australian Rules football legend, as player and coach, who has Swiss Italian ancestry.
Post Script: 13,000 people from 120 countries became Australian citizens at ceremonies around the nation on 26 January 2009.