Today we’re being urged to celebrate what’s great about our country. One of the things that’s great is that we get a bunch of days off for various reasons throughout the year. Australia Day is no exception.
We celebrate Australia Day on the 26th of January each year because it was that day in 1788 that Captain Arthur Phillip took formal possession of the colony of New South Wales and became its first Governor. The first official celebrations were held in 1818 to mark the 30th anniversary of white settlement.
The tradition of having Australia Day as a national holiday on 26 January is a recent one. Not until 1935 did all the Australian states and territories use that name to mark that date. Not until 1994 did they begin to celebrate Australia Day consistently as a public holiday on that date.
If you want to find out more about Australia Day you can go to the official website here.
The day is marked with a public holiday and some large scale celebrations across our big country but not everyone will be celebrating today. For some, this is not ‘Australia Day’, it is ‘Survival Day’ or ‘Invasion Day’.
It’s good to see that the National Australia Day Council is acknowledging the pain that the day brings for sections of our population. For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples the 26th of January marks the day that white settlers stole their land and in many cases tried to wipe them out.
On Australia Day we recognise the unique status of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The National Australia Day Council (NADC) is committed to playing a part in the journey of Reconciliation by helping all Australians to move forward with a better understanding of our shared past, and importantly how this affects the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today and how we might build a better future together.
The NADC’s approach to Reconciliation is one of leadership. We recognise that some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and some non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians may have mixed feelings about celebrating this day. January 26 has multiple meanings: it is Australia Day and it is also, for some, Survival Day or Invasion Day. The NADC acknowledges that the date brings a mixture of celebration and mourning and we believe that the programs presented by the NADC should play a powerful and positive role in advancing Reconciliation. – Australia Day – Reconciliation
So how do we create a day that everyone can feel includes them? Are there simply too many points of view to ever hope for a unified celebration? How do we ensure that we’re actually deeply engaging with other points of view rather than being dismissive or simply paying lip service?
If you honestly want to hear the heart of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples it’s worth taking the time to watch an eight and a half minute video that has gone viral in recent days. It features journalist Stan Grant in an off-the-cuff speech during a debate on racism last October. I think we’d all do well to hear Stan and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders not as those trying to spoil our Australia Day party but as those with some relevant things to say that we need to consider.
So can we mourn and celebrate on the one day? I know that I do just that every Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas Day. I celebrate the occasion but mourn those who are no longer around to share those days with me. How much more should we mourn on this day when we consider the long history of the way we have treated our nations’s first people? And don’t try to tell me it’s all in the past. There is still deep racism in our nation which needs to be recognised and healed.
Murray Campbell is a Baptist Minister from Melbourne. Yesterday he wrote about the need to go beyond recognition of the issues to respond appropriately.
We cannot live in the past, but living in the present can remain most hard when our history remains unresolved. To this, I am looking forward to the Day when God will put away forever all that is wrong and evil, but in the present we remain responsible for our words and actions, and to ignore the call for reconciliation when it is given us, is simply iniquitous.
At this time, let us re-issue calls to include in our national constitution a statement recognising the first Australians. Of course, the wording of such an inclusion is incredibly important, and so instead of deferring it because the task is complex, let’s move forward.
Also, January 26th is our national holiday, and on this day I will give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy in our country. It does seem as though the date has evolved beyond the tall ships in Botany Bay, as it is now cherished by many thousands of immigrants who have no connection to 1788, but who have made their home here from all corners on the globe and who celebrate becoming citizens on this date. But I am still conscious of the fact that for many Aboriginal people, ‘Australia Day’ is not so celebratory.
Are we so tied to this date that we cannot move to another? – Murray Campbell
I want to celebrate what’s great about Australia today, and the list is almost endless. We live in a magnificent land that is justifiably the envy of most others around our globe. But I’ll be mixing those celebrations with mourning for what has been taken from so many for so long. As a white Australian I can never know the full depth of the pain that others know but I hope and I pray that we can move forward as a nation and make right what is wrong.
I’d really appreciate your thoughts and comments.
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