A couple of weeks ago it was January 26. Depending on your world view, that particular day has a name. Across Australia it is a public holiday and the current Federal Government gets very upset if local Councils don’t hold citizenship ceremonies on the day.
We’re told our public holidays are always fixed dates. In addition to Australia Day being January 26, Christmas Day always falls on December 25, Boxing Day always falls on December 26, New Year’s Day always falls on January 1 and Anzac Day always falls on April 26. But that’s not the full story. The Queen’s Birthday holiday is celebrated on a Monday to create a long weekend. In most states, the weekend chosen is in June, except for Western Australia (September) and Queensland (October). Labor Day is in May in some states, October in others but the date is changed every year to create a long weekend. Probably the strangest method of calculating a date for a public holiday is Easter. Easter Sunday is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 21
History tells us that Captain Author Phillip stepped foot onto (what is now) Australian soil on 26 January 1788. History also tells us that despite the claims of the English at the time, the land that Phillip claimed in the name of the King of England had been inhabited and maintained for thousands of years prior by one of the oldest civilisations in the world.
There are reasonably frequent stories in the media of people being upset when various governments around Australia resume land for what are promoted as ‘better uses’ and in the view of those losing the land, the compensation is not sufficient. Imagine for a minute how hurt you would be if that happened to you. Now imagine how much additional continual hurt and pain there would be if each year there was a national holiday on that day celebrating the resumption of your land.
From the 1930’s to the mid 1990’s Australia Day was celebrated in a traditional way, the date changed each year to ensure the public holiday was on a Monday; creating a long weekend
. From 1996, Australia Day has always been on the date that causes some in our community to be reminded, yet again, that their land was resumed without (in their opinion) sufficient compensation. Certainly, none of those responsible or immediately affected by the resumption are still alive — but that’s not the point. The land was resumed without discussion or negotiation under the legal fiction of Terra Nullius
So why can’t you change the date? It seems we can change the date of the celebration of significant religious events, the monarch’s birthday (which is really in April anyway) or even ‘cultural’ icons like the Melbourne Cup. Generally the events we change the date of each year are kept in the same part of the year — for example the Melbourne Cup is always the first Tuesday in November. While Christmas Day on December 25 is a convention across the Christian world based on a belief that it is the birthdate of Jesus — however as we’re really not sure of what year he was born
, it’s a big call to suggest we know the date with certainty.
Yet we persist with the illogical leap of faith that we should be celebrating the day a government authority used a legal fiction to take possession of a large land mass without the approval of the owners and paid absolutely nothing in compensation. Is it any wonder our first nations people aren’t enamoured with a public holiday each year to commemorate and celebrate the event?
The National Australia Day Council’s ‘tag line’ is Reflect, Respect, Celebrate
and they tell us
On Australia Day, we reflect on our history, its highs and its lows.
We respect the stories of others.
And we celebrate our nation, its achievements and most of all, its people.
And while they attempt to encourage forgiveness and inclusion, the Council doesn’t select the day chosen to be the day of reflection on our country, our past and our future.
Of course we can change the date. While we can’t unscramble the egg and pretend Captain Phillip and his ships, full of the ‘dregs’ of English society never landed, we can move the date of the national celebration and reflection to something far less confrontational to many. Maybe we should consider a long weekend around the time of the first sitting of the Australian Parliament — which occurred on May 9, 1901
. After all, the long weekend is an Australian tradition we probably all support!
What do you think?