BY ALEC SMART
The annual Australia Day celebration on 26 January each year is again facing challenges to change the date in consideration of our indigenous inhabitants. However, a backlash from unlikely sources has reopened the debate on sovereignty and respect.
Imagine an Orwellian society with CCTV cameras in homes, where Australians are afraid to mention celebrating the national holiday, and the mother of a child who draws a picture of it quickly shreds the damning evidence in fear of judgement.
That’s the basic plot of the Save Australia day campaign advert launched on 11 January 2018 by former Labor Party leader, Mark Latham. Targeted at ‘the left of the Labor Party and Greens’, it attempted to instil anxiety we are heading towards a politically-correct dystopia where Australia Day is a taboo subject.
Aboriginal community leader and Alice Springs councillor, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, championed by conservative media for her perceived stance against feminists and the left, appears in the advert, warning, “Australia Day is under serious threat. Changing Australia Day doesn’t change the lives of Aboriginals in remote communities…”
Blaming ‘guilt-ridden, non-Aboriginal people’ for leading the call to change the date, on Sunday 14 January, Price posted on her Facebook page, “I’ve always said to those who say they feel pained to use the morning to reflect and mourn if that’s what you want to do then use the rest of the day to celebrate.
“I don’t think of it as Survival Day, it’s Australia Day to me but in my view it’s another idea of how to use the day instead of scrapping it and ignoring the date for political division…”
Mark Latham defended his advert in a pessimistic video on his Facebook page, warning, “If the left-wing activists are able to move Australia Day away from the 26th of January, they can change anything about our country. The march through institutions will be unstoppable; just about everything they want to change will happen. If Australia Day falls, then the left will be out of control, so this is vitally important.”
Much of the recent talk of changing Australia Day began in tandem with the national plebiscite on same-sex marriage, which called for respect and inclusion for all citizens, ultimately delivering a Yes result, whilst reinvigorating other dormant issues on cultural identity.
In the discussion leading up to the Yes vote, fearmongers equivalent to Latham warned it would undermine the very fabric of society and could lead to humans marrying their pets and legalised paedophilia.
Thanks to the provocative advertisement, the topic of changing the date has permeated conversations in the run-up to Australia Day 2018 and motivated far-right activists like True Blue Crew in Melbourne, keen to ‘defend’ what they see as the erosion of Australian cultural norms by foreigners and communists.
In August 2017, Yarra City Council in Melbourne announced it would no longer refer to 26 January as Australia Day, and resolved not to hold citizenship ceremonies – the welcoming of new Australians, synonymous with Australia Day – on that date.
Shortly afterwards, Darebin and Moreland city councils in Victoria followed suit, to which the Australian Government promptly retaliated by withdrawing all three councils’ rights to hold citizenship ceremonies.
Green Party leader Richard Di Natale announced on 15 January that his party would prioritise changing Australia Day.
“We have a day on January 26 that marks the commemoration of the arrival of the First Fleet and it’s a day that represents an act of dispossession, an act of theft,” he said. “It’s a day that represents the beginning of an ongoing genocide, the slaughter of so many Aboriginal people.”
Greens MP Lidia Thorpe, the first Indigenous woman to be elected to the Victorian Parliament, suggested flags should be flown at half-mast on Australia Day in remembrance of atrocities committed against Indigenous people.
“We can’t celebrate a day that marks a day of invasion, a day of mourning,” she said. “This country needs to own the truth of what’s happened to its first people. We need to own that we were invaded and atrocities occurred.”
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott rejected The Greens’ stance and on his Twitter account tweeted, “There are 364 other days a year for the Greens to be politically correct. Why can’t they just accept that Jan 26 is the best available day to celebrate all that’s good about life in Australia.”
On 14 January during a live broadcast on Channel 9’s Today Show, Pat Cash, national tennis champion, whilst promoting the Indigenous charity Children’s Ground, declared, “I’ve got to the stage that I cannot celebrate Australia Day… As an Australian that brought two Davis Cups home and represented my country, January 26 is not a day of celebration for me… it’s like invasion day, celebrating white England landing..”
The following morning, on 3AW Radio, he reiterated his stance, saying, “I’m not celebrating the day the British landed here and started butchering the Aboriginal people. If we want to have another day where the Aboriginal people, the real Australians… have got a day to celebrate, whether it’s the 28th January or 30th, or 1st March, then lets do that…”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also took to social media, releasing a video on his Facebook page, interpreted as a retort to Pat Cash, insisting opponents of Australia Day were, “seeking to take a day that unites Australia and Australians and turn it into one that would divide us.
“We recognise that the history of European settlement has been complex and tragic for Indigenous Australians, we recognise all the complexities and challenges of our history. But above all we recognise and we celebrate our achievements as Australians. A free country debates its history, it does not deny it.”
Opponents insist 26 January honours the date Europeans laid claim to this continent and set in motion a chain of dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous inhabitants. Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were only eventually recognised as Australian citizens on 27 May 1967 in a constitutional referendum.
And yet 26 January 1788 was not the date Australia was ‘discovered’ by Europeans. It was the date Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the First Fleet of 11 convict ships that sailed into Botany Bay eight days earlier, relocated to Sydney Cove, because it was a better anchorage, and had a permanent source of fresh water.
Captain James Cook, international explorer and the first European to sight the Australian east coast, made landfall at Kurnell Peninsula on 29 April 1770.
Abel Tasman sighted the island of Tasmania on 24 November 1642, although only one crew member swam shore, on 3 December, in Blackmans Bay, to plant a Dutch flag.
The first Europeans to discover Australia is too grisly a tale to commemorate.
On 4 June 1629, the Dutch East India Company ship Batavia was shipwrecked on Morning Reef off the West Australian coast. Merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz then began a reign of terror, savagely murdering 110 crew members and passengers – including women and children – he perceived as opponents and to deny them dwindling food supplies.
After he was eventually overpowered and his cohorts hanged, two of the lesser mutineers were marooned on mainland Australia, and it is believed they may have intermixed with the Amangu Aboriginal people, because some of their descendants have a Dutch blood group.
In 1818, on the 30th anniversary of the founding of the colony, Governor Lachlan Macquarie chose 26 January as the first official celebration of Foundation Day, as it became known, which continued to be officially celebrated in New South Wales.
Other states continued celebrating their own respective foundations until 1888, when a collectively recognised day spread to all states except South Australia, although it wasn’t until 1935 that it was officially celebrated nationally.
Aboriginal campaign group FIRE, Fighting In Resistance Equally, have organised a rally and march on 26 January at 10am from Redfern to Broadway. Organiser Ken Canning from the Bidjara Peoples told City Hub, “Myself and many other of our group are opposed to celebrating Australia Day. Rather than change the date, I am of the opinion there should be no date at all. Whatever time is picked it is still a celebration of the continued attempted genocide of First Nation Peoples.
“What is tragic in this whole debate, many media outlets are listening to the likes of Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine. These two have very little credibility amongst Aboriginal Peoples, yet they continue to draw attention for all of the wrong reasons. One main fact for certain is the greater majority of Aboriginal, Torres Strait and South Sea Islanders are totally opposed to the whole notion of Australia Day as a celebratory time. This is the date that was the commencement of the invasion of our lands and the atrocities that followed.
“The true history of the invasion of this country is yet to be told and until then, society needs to sit and think clearly on how they may feel about the ongoing human rights abuses First Nations Peoples suffer on a daily basis.”
Invasion Day rally and march to the city meets at The Block, Redfern (corner of Caroline and Louis streets) at 10am on Friday 26 January.