New call for Australia Day date to be reviewed

Scenes from an ‘Invasion day’ protest in Melbourne. Source: AAP

SBS World News Radio: A company whose founding organisation is recorded as being the first to propose Australia's national day be celebrated on January 26 appears to be suggesting the date be reviewed.

What's today known as Australia Day was first commemorated on January 26 in the late 1880s, before the federation of the British colonies in 1901.

It marks the arrival of the first fleet of British ships at Port Jackson in New South Wales in 1788 and the raising of the British flag, and is celebrated as Australia's national day.

Luke Pearson is the founder of the online project IndigenousX, which promotes debate on issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

He says January 26 is not a day of celebration for all Australians.

"A lot of Indigenous people call it 'Invasion Day' (or) 'Survival Day'. Back in the 1930s it was referred to as the 'day of mourning' and a lot of people still call it that. It's a day that signifies the start of that invasion. So, if we are looking for a day that brings everyone together - that's probably not it."

It is the sentiment that has largely fuelled calls for a change in the date of Australia's national day.

And now the financial and health company Australian Unity is adding to the debate.

One of its founding organisations - the Australian Natives' Association - is recorded as being the first to propose the January 26 date in the late 1800s.

Despite its name, it had nothing to do with Australia's First Peoples and was a white men's club founded in Victoria to promote causes including federation, defence and later the White Australia Policy.

Over 130 years on, Australian Unity's Managing Director Rohan Mead says the meaning of January 26 must be revisited.

"I think our organisation - like the nation - has come to realise that we were simply ignorant and misunderstood the rich cultures which we displaced, and largely harmed with European settlement."

On the streets of Sydney, the opinions are mixed.

"It's more about just celebrating Australia as a country rather than, just that part of it, so I think changing it to another day, I think, that would work better."

"I think it should be on the 26th, it always has been, and for me that's when it will be, you know. I'll just celebrate it on that day even if no one else does."

"If Australia wants to have a day I think they should move it just that one day either side to allow for the forgiveness and to be sorry for what happened."

"People are enjoying it there is no reason to have it changed."

Special citizenship ceremonies are held every year on Australia Day.

But in the lead-up to next year's events, Fremantle council in Western Australia sought to move its commemorations away from January 26 out of what it sees as respect to Indigenous people.

Following a dispute with the state and federal governments it has agreed to hold the ceremonies on the day.

The federal Assistant Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke, meanwhile, says there are no plans to change the date of the national day.

"There's the history there. There's our society, I think, comes together as one on Australia Day and reflects on the good and the bad. There's not a really powerful argument to change the day."


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