OPINION: If we want to unify as a country, we will have to change the date

The 26th of January is a date that is well known and celebrated around Australia, as it is “Australia Day”.  But what is Australia Day actually celebrating?

January 26 is the day known by Indigenous communities as a day that changed their lives – and not necessarily for the best.

The 26th is a date that brings up rough, horrific memories for many Indigenous Australians, when tribes were slaughtered as if they were nothing more than animals and hunted for sport.

The date in which the fleets actually arrived in Sydney was on the 24th of January, 1788. January 26, 1788 was the date on which Captain Arthur Phillip took what was described as “formal ownership” of Australia by raising the British flag for the first time in Sydney Cove.

This date was the beginning of the loss of culture, lack of knowledge and when Aboriginal people were removed from their traditional lands and stopped from practicing their language and culture.

Another problem with having Australia’s national day on January 26 is that it is a day that acknowledges European settlement as if it’s purely the only source of national identity and pride in Australia.

This ignores more than 65,000 years of pre-colonial history and 230 years of multicultural migration to Australia.

If anything, changing the date will acknowledge the fact that as a country, we are ready to truly accept and include Indigenous histories, cultures and contributions as a valued part of the Australian story.

This date does not represent a day of joy for Aboriginal communities and needs to be changed to a date that all Australian communities – both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – find to be a great time in our history, not a day that brings up memories of bloodshed and slavery.

To Indigenous communities, this is a day of great sorrow and remembrance for those who lost their lives at the hands of the “first” settlers.

If anything, the 26th should be a day to pay respect to the Aboriginal communities that lost loved ones and their knowledge, not a day to celebrate the brutality and lack of remorse non-Aboriginal people showed to Aboriginal people.

The date has been changed before. In fact, the 26th has only been a national public holiday since 1994 and if we, as a country, want to become unified, we will have to change it once again.

As a country of many cultures and beliefs in 2020, the date that should be known as Australia Day should be a date that is not when any settlement was accorded in any of Australia’s states.

Australia Day should be a celebration of all of these cultures coming together, living in harmony and being a part of this wonderful, multicultural nationality known as Australian.

Alternative dates for Australia Day have been suggested such as May 8 (Mate), or another option could be May 1, as Australians were British subjects until May 1, 1987, when the Australian Citizenship Amendment Act (1984) came into force.

This will still allow an opportunity to get together and celebrate the country we live in and not the past; to celebrate the present and the future. To celebrate coming together, the respect of all cultures and community members.

Yes, the 26th is still an important date in history, but should it be celebrated the way it is or should it be a day of remembrance?

As a young Wadandi person, I was told Australia Day is a day to remember the mob from over east, as each tribe has different dates in which the settlers came. We should not celebrate in the way we do, but we should also not forget this date.

By Sharnae Watson

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