Dividing for Unity

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The time has come for Australia Day to divide itself, in the name of unity, into two.

It sounds paradoxical, but stick with me.

Surely the day when we celebrate ourselves as a nation should fall on any day other than the one when Captain Arthur Phillip first stuck an English flag into Sydney Cove soil and claimed it for Mother England. That day began the process of the British Empire usurping nation upon nation of people from their homeland.

To celebrate on the day when indigenous people mourn, when there are 364 others we could choose, is seeming stranger with every passing year. It sticks the boot once more into those indigenous descendents who are still suffering the effects of that invasion (225 years is really not so long a time when it comes to the grief and trauma of genocide).

It’s time to change it.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating the good fortune of your country. There is nothing wrong with feeling gratitude for the beautiful things about your life, the beautiful land you live on (just as long as you don't get paranoid about it, start sweating about the Other coming to take it away from you). But there is also nothing wrong with marking the evil of the past, and remembering the things about your country which will be left out of glossed-up news reports. To ignore the things that make us flinch about our past stops us healing from them. Flinching from the evils of the past makes it harder to see how far we have come.

Consider the changes that occurred in the years between the 150th and this year's 225th anniversaries of Australia's "founding". In 1938 a standard part of Australia Day celebrations were to re-enact Captain Phillips’ landing, including driving off a token group of Aboriginal people. In 1938, the people who were to play the part of those Aboriginal people in the re-enactment were brought there against their will to do so. Indigenous Australian activists refused to participate, calling it instead the Day of Mourning.

By 1988, 50 years later, those re-enactments had been discontinued. In 1992 the first Survival Day concert was held in Sydney. Many indigenous people call the day Survival Day, to note and honour the culture that still survives after Empire attempts to kill it outright. Since then, the focus on Survival Day has grown until now there are Survival Day commemorations in many Australian cities.

Now it is 2013, the 75th anniversary of that first Day of Mourning in 1938 and some non-indigenous Australians are now choosing to mark the day by siding with their indigenous brothers and sisters as a mark of solidarity. Most capital cities have something going on – in Darwin, a Survival Day Movie. In Melbourne, Share the Spirit, Belgrave Survival Day and Frankston Foreshore Survival Day. In Sydney, Yabun and on the mid-north coast of NSW, Saltwater Freshwater. In Perth, Survival Perth. In Adelaide, Tandanya.

It’s time to seriously think about moving Australia Day to another day. Perhaps it could be held on 22 December, the day of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, to celebrate what so many Australians enjoy about living here. Or perhaps it could be at the other end, at the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, where people have traditionally celebrated the beginning of the return of the sun. A winter's celebration full of good food and warmth and gratitude and anticipation. A public holiday to brighten the soul at the beginning of winter. Or perhaps it could be on the first day of the Australian Open, to celebrate our national obsession with sport. Those are a few things to come to mind and they're all maybe a little cliched. But any of them would be a more fitting way to celebrate ourselves as a country than the current version.


  1. Agree wholeheartedly Sue. Raise the vibe:)

  2. Spent two weeks at the Australia Open on TV and loved your country!! Hail Australia!


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