What is Australia Day?
Today is a national public holiday which celebrates the founding of the first European settlement in 1788 by Governor Arthur Phillip. His fleet, the First Fleet of British Ships landed at Port Jackson and claimed Australia as Great Britain’s own by raising the flag. The action of landing began the history-long battle between Australians and native Australians that is still present and continuing (even if it’s not visible).
Why do we celebrate?
A columnist for brisbanetimes.com proposes that we change the date of Australia Day. Why not because, if we were being honest, not many Australians who were born here remember why we even celebrate it anyway (sometimes they even forget the date). Or maybe if we do remember the brief reason, there’s still a disconnect. Nowadays we associate today with lazing about, celebrating all things Australian (drinks and barbecues, anyone?) And “the only people who really care about the arrival of the First Fleet are the poor bastards who lost their country because of it”. So why should the rest of us care? There’s the beach, fireworks, good food and family time. What’s not to like?
However, it’s the ‘newly-made’ Australians, those who’ve come from overseas and especially Indigenous Australians who find more meaning in this day. It was a day of successful settlement by one country, a day of invasion for another. And if we looked a little closer, we question why our present generation should feel guilt if we’re three centuries removed from what happened.
It’s an idea that we would rather not think about – it’s ‘irrelevant’, ‘ unimportant’…but only to us, the non-indigenous Australians. The proposal, made by an Anglo-Saxon person, to move the date to just some other day so that we can “get another piss-up at the dry end of the year” diminishes the importance of the date. We’ve already physically moved native Australians out of their homes, so why not move their day of commemoration as well.
It’s like if your birthday was on Christmas, and your family are big celebrators of the holiday. Why not move it to the beginning of the year so that you can get one celebration at the beginning of the year, and another at the end of the year. Plus, if you’re into presents, you would get two gifts instead of one. More convenient? Probably. Would you want to though? Maybe, maybe not.
Even if a public holiday isn’t as individually important to someone as their personal holiday, it uses a similar principle. In moving a date, we are only thinking of moving the culture of food and drink for our own convenience. In time, we may forget the reason why we moved the day, and maybe even why the day existed in the first place.
People are a-historical
There’s a concern with people, and more commonly youths of today, being known as “a-historical”. That is, without knowledge of where they came from or what their heritage is. It’s the idea of ‘irrelevance’ again – we just don’t care enough to know. And why would we when it doesn’t affect us directly or have any visible importance in our daily lives?
Although I can see where the columnist is coming from, there’s a reason why we celebrate and remember something on one particular day every year. For quite a number of people, there’s a sense of tradition and a sense of connection to history. When we remember history, we remember that our parents, grandparents and great grandparents celebrated a certain day or movement or language. We move back in time and, in doing so, we connect to our culture. We can establish our identity.
If we think a little more closer, what does it mean to be Australian? Is it the Australians who go through the motions and have big lunches and dinners, is it the Asian family who waves around the Australian flag, is it the Australian who has no idea what Australia Day is about, is it the Aboriginal family that stands off to the side?
It’s all of these things.
So, on Australia Day, every year, there’s the smell of coals and sunscreen, but also celebration and acknowledgement.
Last modified: January 27, 2016