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The Australia Day Debate

As a country Australia has many things to be proud of; the beautiful environment, natural resources, our sense of mateship, humour and irreverence and, in most cases, our sporting teams. In order to celebrate the Australian spirit, every year on the 26th of January, many participate in neighbourhood barbeques or head to the beach with some sausages and sunscreen in honour of our country. However, in recent years, the 26th January is shrouded with negative connotations and controversy surrounding the origins of the day.

In 2018, tens of thousands of people protested the date of Australia Day by marching in Sydney and Melbourne to voice the growing movement, referring to Australia Day as Invasion day, as it marks the date that the First Fleet arrived in Port Jackson. The day is promoted as a chance to embrace the Australian spirit and celebrate the country, but for the traditional owners of the land, the date serves as a painful reminder. For our Indigenous people, the 26th January symbolises the beginning of the mass loss of lives, culture, persecution and discrimination which continued centuries to come.

Many Aboriginal people also believe that celebrating on the 26th ignores 60,000 years of pre-settlement history. The basis of the protesting is not about prohibiting the celebration of Australia and the culture, rather recognising that the date, the 26th of January, represents pain, suffering and the near annihilation Australia’s Indigenous people and that our National Day should recognise, commemorate as well as celebrate all of the country’s culture and history.

For years, many people have suggested that the date be changed to a more significant date for Australia Day, one that does not hold such a dark past. A popular suggestion is that Australia Day be celebrated on the 1st of January. This being due to its historical significance of being the day the Commonwealth of Australia was introduced in 1901. However, while this idea has garnered support it has also gained criticisms- as the day also is celebrated as the first day of the New Year, and some feel it may draw away from the significance of celebrating Australia. Another proposed date is to celebrate the day on the 12th of March, yet another historically significant day. The 12th of March 1913 marks the day that Canberra was named and officially recognised as Australia’s capital city. As yet another Australia Day passes, the controversy and protesting surrounding the date will continue. It will be seen that this controversial topic will continue to divide Australians. Surveys were taken by both the Progressive Think Tank Australia Institute (PTTAI) and the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). The results from PTTAI showed that 56% of Australians did not care when Australia Day was held. While the IPA results showed completely different results with 70% of Australians showing support for the current date of the national day.

For now, as our National Day remains 26th January for the foreseeable future, acknowledgement, recognition and commemoration are important steps towards what our National Day should represent, regardless of the day it is celebrated and promote what a modern Australia stands for; equality, inclusivity, multiculturism, mateship and freedom

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