Australia Day: the debate to change the date

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Australia Day. It’s Australia’s Day to take a day off work and celebrate beside a beach or a barbeque. But is it really a celebration for everyone?

Australians from all backgrounds have varying positions on changing the date – even among First Australians there are arguments on both sides.

January 26, 1788 is the date in the history books that marks the settlement of the First Fleet on Australian shores. Some see the British arrival as a celebration, others see it as a symbol of the dispossession of the lands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Those who advocate for maintaining the status quo take the following positions:

  • “It’s part of our history, let’s not deny it”
  • “There are greater issues in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that need attention”

Equally passionate and rational calls to change the date argue that:

  • “This date marks a painful day for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”
  • “This is a divisive date, not a unifying date”

Over the last 10 years, Samaritans has consistently questioned the appropriateness of celebrating Australia Day on January 26. We do not deny that January 26 is part of Australian history; it marks the arrival of the First Fleet in Australia.

However, when people argue that we should stop denying “it” or simply move past “it”, we need to consider what the “it” is.

“It” is a painful and complex history of subjugation and discrimination against Australia’s First Peoples. Anyone who is quick to claim our country and its First Peoples need to get over “it” should join in the conversation for change and spend the time educating themselves on that “it”. Perhaps their perception may change.

The problem arising here is that so many Australians simply don’t know how painfully impacted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were, and still are, by the British arrival 230 years ago.

We can’t change the past, but there are many things we can do to have a more inclusive Australia in future:

  • We can educate ourselves on the history of this country.
  • We can listen to what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are saying when they speak about issues in their communities
  • We can support conversations and movements led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples about how they believe their peoples would be best reconciled and healed by the past

Australia must be inclusive for all Australians and that starts with Australia’s First Peoples.

Samaritans would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land and pay our respects to the Elders past, present and future for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and hopes of Aboriginal Australia.