Monday, January 26, 2015

What Does Australia Day Commemorate? Not Something To Be Proud About.

The vast majority of nations have a national day that in some way commemorates an event that is directly linked with the formation of a national identity.  What Australia Day commemorates is in stark contrast to comparable nations. Australia marks a commemoration of white settlement of Australia when the First Fleet landed in New South Wales in 1788.  For the indigenous population, it is often referred to as Invasion Day.  For this reason alone, Australia Day will never be a fully inclusive day that will enable all Australians a reason to feel national pride or celebrate as a nation.

It is important to examine comparable nations for the underlying background behind their designated national days. The most relevant comparators are nations that grew out of British colonization and transportation, in particular, Canada and the USA.  Canada celebrates Canada Day on 1 July each year and this represents when its three provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Canada provinces) united under the Constitution Act to become the nation Canada. Arguably the most famous or recognizable national day in the world is the 4th of July which represents the declaration of independence of The United States of America from Great Britain. 

Culturally, the closest nation to Australia is New Zealand. The signing of the Waitangi Treaty, is regarded as being the founding document of nation of New Zealand. The day of signing is celebrated as Waitangi Day and is also known to a lessor extent as New Zealand Day. Whilst there can be argument over the manner by which the signing of the treaty occurred, its signing did legally define the creation of the ‘colony’ of New Zealand. 

Australia did not become a national entity until Federation on 1 January 1901. It seems ludicrous to reflect back to the landing of the First Fleet in 1788, where the intent for the British was to establish a penal colony rather than having any thought of creating an independent nation. Celebrating a time when white settlers set up camp in a foreign land is at total odds with other nations where there is national pride associated with a key event that defined the creation of a nation or a significant moment in the history as a nation.  It is almost cringe worthy when we have to explain to those from outside Australia when asked about the background behind Australia Day.

If we review the rationale behind the national day for the great majority of nations, we stand out alone as being frankly embarrassing. Other nations have designated national days that provide reason for its citizens to be proud and it is clear that an alternate day should be identified.  If we cannot identify a particular rationale to gazette a specific day, perhaps we should follow the lead of the United Kingdom, which does not have a designated national day.  They do not appear to have been worse for the absence of one.

An alternative Australia Day must be debated and change undertaken to not only allow inclusiveness but a reason to be proud of what it stands for.

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