In recognition of January 26, Honi is dedicating its platform this week to prioritising the voices of Indigenous people. Find out more here.
Here we are again. January 26 is approaching and our country enters the annual debate over what we should call our national holiday, and whether we should celebrate it on the anniversary of the First Fleet landings.
Many Indigenous Australians find celebrating on the anniversary of British arrival offensive and have taken to calling the holiday ‘Invasion Day’, or more recently, ‘Survival Day’. Some have suggested the entire holiday be scrapped, in favour of another celebration of our national identity.
I find this view defeatist. Australia Day is a part of our heritage, and helps us celebrate what we most value in our society. It should not be used to further divide us.
Australia Day does not have as long a history as you might think. It was only properly celebrated in NSW from the 1900s onwards, and other states that did celebrate the First Fleet’s arrival did so on differing days. In 1938, with the Sesquicentenary celebration, Australia Day became a national phenomenon. In 1994, January 26 was cemented by all the states and territories as a public holiday.
Despite the holiday being relatively new, the criticism of it is not. The Sesquicentenary events in 1938 were coupled with an Aboriginal Day of Mourning protest, as was the 1988 Bicentenary, and many other years since. Criticism of Australia Day seems as tied to January 26 as sausage sandwiches. But is this criticism fair?
There are many reasons for Indigenous Australians to dislike celebrating Australia Day on January 26. The date marks the beginning of a period where our people were dispossessed of their land, were forced out of their communities and traditional ways of life, and died in overwhelming numbers. The day still highlights the persistent inequality that we suffer within Australia: the great Australian dream is often out of reach for many Indigenous people.
So, for many, the criticism of Australia Day is not only justified, but necessary. But I am not going to be one of the many people marching through Redfern on Thursday, draped in an Aboriginal flag talking about ‘Invasion Day’. This isn’t because I don’t care about the past, nor because I don’t value my Aboriginal heritage. I am a proud Wiradjuri man, and one who is involved in my community at many levels. The reason I don’t use the term ‘Invasion Day’ is because I believe in a different kind of Australia Day, and a different kind of Australia.
Australia Day is a celebration of what makes our nation great: our inclusivity, our diversity, our enduring spirit, and our hardworking attitude. Australia Day celebrates what unites us, not what divides us. Australia Day is about showing pride and love for our country, and celebrating the things we love about it. By celebrating on January 26, we remind ourselves what it is we love about this country. There is a reason so many new citizens choose this day to permanently join our society.
To call January 26 anything other than Australia Day dismisses all this. ‘Invasion Day’ attempts to refocus attention on atrocities, massacres, and inequality. This does nothing to unite us. It does everything to divide us.
This does not mean the criticism of the day isn’t fair, that debate over our history isn’t one we should be having, or that Australia Day isn’t a symbolic day to start such conversations. This is also not an argument about patriotism. Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians who use the term ‘Invasion day’ are just as patriotic as you, me, and anyone else in this sunburnt country. But that is not the purpose of Australia Day; it is about bringing people together.
I love Australia Day not in spite of my Aboriginality, but because of it. It is because of my connection to the land and the country, a connection I think every citizen should and does want to be a part of.