Should Australia Day's date be moved?

How you feel about the subject of Australia Day and the date it is held will – as it is with all opinions – be somewhat based on how well informed you are on the actual subject itself.

A day that should be for all Australians presently is not, and it can only be for all Australians if something changes, but should that change be the date we mark it, if we mark it at all?

The key concept around which both sides of the debate appears to revolve is whether the day (regardless of when it is held) can, or even should, acknowledge this land’s First Peoples and their links to a past (before and after settlement) that differs greatly from the convicts and crew of the First Fleet.

REASONS TO MOVE IT

Primarily, it’s the day’s failure to be inclusive, and this is not a new concept. People as far back as NSW governor Sir Henry Parkes have acknowledged that January 26 would always be a negative reminder to Indigenous Australians.

In 1938 Aboriginal leaders publicly declared it a day of sorrow and mourning.

Calling January 26 ‘Australia Day’ continues to make many feel compelled to march in protest in order to have their voices heard.

History: January 26 has been called many things, and days named Australia Day were held on various dates including June, July and August. Photo: Shutterstock.

History: January 26 has been called many things, and days named Australia Day were held on various dates including June, July and August. Photo: Shutterstock.

REASONS TO KEEP IT

The most compelling reason to keep the date is the idea that there is the opportunity – as this debate has shown – to acknowledge every aspect of the history of settlement, warts and all.

This acknowledgement concept however, can only occur if we stop ignoring the bad side of our history, and treat the event as solemnly and respectfully as we commemorate Anzac Day.


NATIONAL DAYS CAN, AND HAVE, CHANGED

Australia Day has only had a continuous nationwide public holiday on January 26 since 1994. Additionally, prior to 1935 it has been marked on other days of the year, or been called something else. Some states only celebrated their own foundation.

Interesting fact: that wasn’t even the day of the First Fleet’s initial arrival. As the song indicates, they were bound for the boggy marsh known as Botany Bay. They came ashore from January 18-20 before having a second go at a settlement site just a tad further north.

Notably, other countries have moved their national days too, and don’t relate them to an arrival. Italy celebrates removing the monarchy after World War II. Some European countries celebrate sovereignty achieved (or restored) around the end of World War I. Russia, a nation thousands of years old, moved its national day to celebrate the most recent Declaration of State Sovereignty in 1990. The list goes on.

Canada marks Confederation, not settlement, and still has protests from their Indigenous population, so the chosen date is not their issue. It’s more about being properly inclusive and telling all sides of history.

Ironically enough, the UK, whose arrival we celebrate, doesn’t have a national day.

Another point is, almost none of the public holidays in Australia are celebrated on the actual date their respective event is related to.

For believers, the real date of Christ’s birth is not known, and Christians even moved the date of Christmas for what were essentially political reasons at the time.

Easter is tied to the lunar cycle, not the calendar date believers might calculate.

The Queen's Birthday is not acknowledged on the same day throughout the Commonwealth, and in Australia not even in the same month as her birthday (April). Queensland also moved it for 2016 onward.

Significantly, it's only a military date that is always universally correct to the calendar; Anzac Day. So does the argument to celebrate a landing on January 26 mean we think of raising a UK flag in Sydney Cove as a military event? After all, the First Fleet was escorted by two armed Royal Navy vessels.

In terms of how to face this issue respectfully, it’s already starting to happen at a local level. A handful of councils are objecting to holding citizenship ceremonies on January 26, much to the chagrin of several federal politicians.

In some cases these councils have also moved (or at least tried to move), rename and revise their local celebrations to make them more inclusive of Indigenous Australians as well as more open to cultures brought in by non-UK immigration.

Finally however, it’s not a local council matter, or even a national matter. The reality is, the declaration of all our public holidays are state and territory decisions.