Opinion

Time for debate over Australia Day

By Shepparton News

Well, another Australia Day done and dusted.

Did you celebrate? If so, how?

I remember that for years, Australia Day was just a good excuse for a long weekend (we did not even have the event on January 26 at times).

Gotta love the land of the long weekend.

We often went to a music concert, or a weekend away, camping, fishing, four-wheel driving, a few quiet beers and a barbecue — that is what Australia Day was all about for me. Great stuff.

Yes, I knew about the first fleet and Captain Arthur Phillip taking possession of Australia (not Capt James Cook as some people think) for Britain, but did not give it much thought.

I even took the children to the Tall Ships re-enactment in 1988 on Port Phillip as part of the bicentennial celebrations — a spectacular scene.

Recently, my perception of Australia Day changed. The catalyst was Triple J’s decision to break with tradition and have the Hottest 100 Countdown on a day other than Australia Day. What is all this about, I thought?

Long story short, January 26 represents the start of the dispossession of Aboriginal land by the British colonists. Many people call it ‘‘Invasion Day’’.

We really learned nothing about this at school; now is the time to have the discussion.

So think about this:

If you’re an Australian, your heritage is either Aboriginal, convict, immigrant or refugee.

Shouldn’t Australia Day be a celebration of our great country that includes all of its people?

At the moment it excludes many people of Aboriginal heritage.

So if you accept that argument, the question then becomes: ‘‘What is an appropriate date for us to celebrate this wonderful country?’’

There have been many options put forward and the logical date is when the six separate British self-governing colonies united to form the Commonwealth of Australia, commonly known as Federation, ie January 1 (1901).

Canada Day commemorates a similar unification of the then three separate colonies in Canada and is on July 1.

In New Zealand, its national day, Waitangi Day, celebrates the signing of the treaty of Waitangi on February 6, 1840, and is regarded as New Zealand’s founding document.

1840? Yes 1840. The Kiwis put together a treaty with the Maori people in 1840. Australia has yet to do the same with the Aboriginal people.

I understand it is a far more complicated task with Australia being so big and having to deal with so many different clans, but 179 years behind New Zealand? Give me a break.

So where to from here?

We need a treaty with our First Nations people in order to move forward on these issues. We are the only Commonwealth country without one.

We need a new flag, maybe one that acknowledges our First Nations people and our colonial ancestors. (If only to distinguish us on the world stage from those pesky, progressive Kiwis across the ditch.

We need to become a republic. It is absolutely ridiculous that our head of state has to be a member of an unelected, privileged family from a foreign country while an Australian citizen cannot be our head of state. (One has to be an Australian citizen to serve in our parliament but not our head of state; go figure.)

Australia Day would become the day we became a republic, solving all those issues that we are debating about the appropriateness of January 26.

Australia will struggle to move forward with its identity until those four points are addressed.

Can we have the debate?

What do you think?

Ern Meharry writes a regular blog at https://www.sheppnews.com.au/@ernestos-manifesto