Fun fact about Australia: its internet on average is slower than that of Thailand, New Zealand and Slovakia. And Australia’s scientists were responsible for developing wifi in the first place.
But I’m not here to whine about the state of Australia’s internet connection. Rather, I’d like to talk to you about something even more contentious, Australia’s national holiday: the aptly named “Australia Day”.
What is Australia Day?
Before leaping into the controversy, we have to look at what Australia Day is in 2017. From a surface perspective, its the annual national holiday held on the 26th of January to celebrate the greatness of Australia. From our beaches and reputation for real “mateship” (i.e. or tendency to be “fair dinkum” and “larrikins” at heart), to endorsing systemic breaches on human rights on a daily basis.
This means a public holiday featuring sunburns from the beach, drunken antics, Australian flags brandished across cheap merchandise, barbecues with nary a shrimp in sight, and the announcement of the inaugural Australian of the Year. Let’s not forget the standard cricket match between Australia and Pakistan, either.
At this stage, you’re probably thinking - “gee, this sounds like a pretty jaded 23 year old Aussie”. And you’re right - but it’s because I expect more from this beautiful, bold country and its people.
The Australia Day Controversy
While its unnerving to consider that in some countries you can be imprisoned for flag desecration, and Australia likes to sell her flag’s design as a vagina-hoist, there are more disturbing things to consider. Like the fact that Australia’s history is rife with incidents of the regular murder, torture and cultural erasure of its Indigenous peoples. And the 26th of January commemorates the very day that the British landed in Australia in 1788 to begin its genocide (Euphemistically known as “colonisation”) of these very people.
Nevermind that Australia literally did not exist as a country until her states federated on the 1st of January in 1901 (Yes, Australia narrowly missed being the United States of Australia). The colonies used rum as a currency for a good twenty years, for heaven’s sake!
The fact of the matter is that there are alternatives to celebrating what it means to be Australian on the very day that reminds an entire group of people of the beginning of their disenfranchisement. A good 364 other alternatives, some of which also have significance in Australia’s history:
- The 1st of January, signifying Federation in 1901.
- The 17th of December, commemorating the date that Indigenous Australians were given the right to vote for Queensland state parliament in 1965, meaning that all Indigenous Australians across the country were legally able to vote.
- The 17th of August, recognising the date in 1971 when Neville Bonner AO was sworn into the senate as the first Indigenous Australian appointed to Federal Parliament in Australia.
- The 13th of February, Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples for the atrocities that were sanctioned by the Australian Government, resulting in the stolen generations.
- The 8th of May, because if you say May 8 quickly enough, it sounds pretty darn Australian. May-eight. Mayeight. Maaaaaate.
Granted, the dates listed above predominantly focus on the history of Indigenous Australians - and I’m sure you’re thinking by now, ‘but isn’t Australia Day about all Australians’? It is. It totally is. Which is all the more reason why Australia Day should be changed to commemorate a day that shows Australia’s moves toward recognising the citizenship and personhood of all members of Australian society.
Because the real importance of Australia Day is found in remembering why Australia is so great. It’s not because we have delicious lamingtons (Although that’s certainly part of it), or that we have such dangerous and exotic animals just chilling in our backyards. Australia’s melting pot of ethnicities and religions and languages give birth to such a rich and varied culture. Why can’t we have a day that embraces our patchwork culture, and celebrates being ‘fair dinkum’ and true ‘mateship’. I’m calling for a day that we can all relax and have fun, and genuinely be good to each other - especially if that means celebrating it on a different date, that has a more relevant and respectful meaning to everyone living in Australia.
What are your thoughts on Australia Day? Share them below in the comments section!