AUSTRALIA Day is not just painful for indigenous people. The move to change the date of Australia Day is slowly gaining momentum. Greens leader Richard Di Natale has listed this as a priority for 2018. Some local councils have already decided to move away from January 26.
We know this date is antagonistic for the traditional people of this continent, representing the dispossession of their lands. That alone is a strong reason for change. But the rest of the Australian community, especially those of white Anglo/Celtic origin, seem to have forgotten another significance of that wretched date. Approximately 1500 unfortunate people were transported against their will, half a world away from their families and homes. For most it was effectively a life sentence with little hope of ever seeing their homes or loved ones again. None would have imagined the possibility of a happy existence shackled in chains in a harsh foreign land under the brutal control of the British military. They arrived mistreated and often ill from scurvy and other diseases. Some died en route or shortly after arrival and their existence, especially in the early years, was tenuous at best. Shortages and famine were the norm and life was miserable and harsh. Over the next half century or more another 160,000 people met a similar fate.
This chapter of history is full of grief and misery on both sides of the world. Surely, the date of establishment of a British gulag under which so many people suffered is no cause for celebration for anyone – indigenous or not. It would not have been celebrated by any of those who were transported and torn from their families. Part of the problem seems to lie in finding an alternative date that is inclusive and worthy of celebration. Some dates to consider follow.
May 22: In 1840 the order ending transportation to NSW was made. Transportation continued for some years afterwards, particularly in Tasmania and Western Australia, but the date marks the beginning of the end of a dark chapter as a harsh British penal colony. Australia was to become a free land.
July 9: In 1900 the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act became law. Australia would become one nation under federation the following New Year’s Day.
July 31: In 1900 Western Australia was the last colony to vote in favour of federation. Australia as we know it was shaped.
May 27: In 1967 the Australian people voted overwhelmingly to recognise indigenous Australians. This is the date that we became one nation, black and white inclusive.
March 3: In 1986 Australia became an independent nation with the enactment of the Australia Act. This removed the responsibility of the British Parliament for the government of any Australian state and also the right of the Westminster parliament to legislate for Australia. The High Court of Australia also became the highest court in the land. This is our independence day.
June 3: In 1992 the High Court overturned the principle of “terra nullius” and recognised that this continent has been continuously inhabited for tens of thousands of years by the oldest living culture on Earth. Australia finally recognised a history that extended long before the First Fleet.
No doubt there will be many who disagree and will be stuck with the traditional date of January 26, but any and all of those other dates are far worthier of celebration as a national day. My choice would be May 27. That is the date that we started moving forward as one nation, both indigenous and non-indigenous. That is something all Australians can celebrate.
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