Australia Day date rethink required

By Shepparton News

January 26 is a day that has different meanings for different people.

The date commemorates the establishment of the first European settlement at Port Jackson in 1788.

For many, it is Australia Day — a national day of celebration and reflection on what it means to be an Australian.

For others, it is a day of pain associated with loss — loss of culture, loss of country, loss of communities.

The arrival of Europeans dramatically changed the lives and freedoms of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities throughout Australia, bringing widespread disadvantage and despair.

The decision by a number of local councils to change how they mark Australia Day has led to increased debate on the appropriateness of celebrating on January 26.

With a growing awareness of the importance of recognising the honoured place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in our country’s history, it is timely that we also have a respectful conversation about the appropriateness of celebrating our national day on January 26.

As with any community, there is also a diversity of views about January 26 within the Aboriginal communities.

Some view the day as an opportunity to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ survival as the longest continuing culture on earth within the story of the modern Australian nation.

However, there is a strong view within Aboriginal communities and the reconciliation movement that January 26 represents the beginning of an unlawful invasion with devastating impacts still felt by Aboriginal communities.

As far back as 1938, Aboriginal leaders such as Jack Patten, William Cooper and Pastor Doug Nicholls declared it a ‘‘Day of Mourning’’.

To many since then it has been known as ‘‘Invasion Day’’, a day which marked the start of many atrocities, massacres, loss of land, language and the right to practise culture.

Right across the country, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can testify to these impacts of colonisation and they continue to experience marked deficits in health, education, employment, justice and child-removal outcomes as a result.

When considering January 26, it is useful to remember that Australia Day as we know it today has only existed as a national holiday since 1994.

Moving the day is not such a radical step or break with tradition.

The debate about the date provides us with an opportunity to re-examine this country’s true history and work together to create a new identity — one informed by truth and understanding that acknowledges the richness that Aboriginal culture and knowledge contribute to this country.

It can allow us to continue a national conversation that helps us reflect on who we are as a nation, what we stand for and what date best reflects those values and attributes.