Why Some Australians Are Choosing Not to Celebrate Australia Day on January 26

Australia is such an incredible nation and we are so lucky to call this place home. We should have a day to celebrate ALL that is great about Australia.

To congregate at the nearest water hole, feast on Aussie faves with our family and friends, enjoy a few day drinks and some tunes (maybe not Triple J Top 100, but I’m totally okay with that after The Wiggles WON top spot this year. WTAF?).

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Anyhoo, I digress. Yes, Australians deserve a day to celebrate our great nation. But should it really be January 26th that we do this?

January 26, the day the first fleet arrived at our shores, marks the start of a dark period in Indigenous history. Many Australians are now choosing NOT to celebrate Australia Day, or ‘Invasion Day’.

Yet many others continue to celebrate the public holiday today, Wednesday 26th January.

We are not here to tell you why, when and how to choose to acknowledge today. But we do want to explain WHY so many people are choosing to respectfully decline from celebrating today.

A traumatic date 

There are many reasons why the 26 January and ‘Australia Day’ are controversial, painful and traumatic for First Nations people. On 26 January 1788, Sir Arthur Phillip raised the British flag at Warrane (Sydney Cove).

But what this did for First Nations people was devastating. They suffered massacres, land theft, stolen children and widespread oppression – all awful impacts of colonisation. But here’s the thing – many of the effects of colonisation still exist today.

And thus, is it really right for us to be celebrating on a day that causes so much pain to so many people?

A day that divides us

Nakkiah Lui, Gamilaroi and Torres Strait Islander playwright and actor explains that the 26th of January is not a day to celebrate as a country, but is actually a day that divides us:

Most people just want a day to celebrate the place that they call home, to be part of a community, and to guide Australia into the future. I am one of these people, so why can’t we celebrate this on a day that includes all Australians?”

Check out this video of First Nations response to Australia Day, a day plagued with sadness, survival and heartbreak for so many.

YouTube video

Here are a few quotes from the clip that really stood out for us:

“Australia Day. Survival Day. The celebrations of survival of one of the oldest cultures, if not the oldest culture on earth.” 

It’s like somebody that comes into your house, does horrible things to your family and then are like, ‘Ugh dude, we’re gonna have, like a party and a barbeque and listen to Triple J and we’re gonna put it on the date we turned up’. That’s kind of sadistic.”

“People celebrating the day that your people got slaughtered and invaded and the day that caused all that destruction and all that suffering to very peaceful people.” 

“If it’s truly a celebration of what we call a nation, then we need to include the First Nations of this country.” 

Change the date

In addition to the various Australia Day celebrations that take place across Australia today, there are also plenty of protests to change the date, and find a new date to celebrate our country that includes all Australians. Or to abolish Australia Day completely.

You’ve probably seen the  ‘Change the Date’ movement, and, again, we’re not here to tell you what to do about this. But if you are interested in finding an alternative date, this might be something you would like to look into more. Here are some websites to find out more:

Other dates to celebrate instead

1 January – Federation Day. In 1901, the six British self-governing colonies (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia) united to form the Commonwealth of Australia.

13 February – when the government apologised to the Stolen Generation. This occurred on 13 February 2008 after decades of the Indigenous community asking for the Australian government to apologise.

3 March – Australia Act was enacted. Signed on March 2nd by Queen Elizabeth II and PM Bob Hawke to be enacted simultaneously in Australia and the UK on March 3rd 1986.

20 March – Canberra became our capital. In 1913, Canberra was declared the capital of Australia.

11 April – White Australia Policy abolished. On April 11, 1973 Gough Whitlam’s government finally abolished all notes of racism with the ‘The Migration Act’ of 1973.

19 April – ‘Advance Australia Fair’ becomes National Anthem. It officially replaced the UK anthem, ‘God Save the Queen’ in 1984.

27 May – First Nations people allowed constitutional rights. In 1967, Australia held a referendum asking whether Aboriginal people should be given the right to make laws and be accounted for under the constitution. The country voted with a resounding 90.77% in favour of the changes. Until then, Aboriginal people were denied several rights, including the right to vote or to be counted within the human census.

3 June – Mabo Day. On 3 June 1992, Eddie Mabo’s case won, which overturned the legal stance of ‘terra nullius’, and acknowledged native Indigenous land rights.

1 December – First day of summer. While technically there is nothing of historical significance about this date, it marks the first day of one of the things that makes Australia so iconic – summer!

Regardless of how you choose to go about today, whether you choose to celebrate or not, consider taking a moment of silence to reflect on our nation’s history. You can learn about other ways to respectfully celebrate Australia Day here. 

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