• Scenes from an Invasion Day protest (AAP)Source: AAP
Fremantle has reopened discussions around the appropriateness of the chosen date for 'Australia Day', but Luke Pearson thinks it provides Australia with a good opportunity to explore who we are and what we as a nation stand for.
By
Luke Pearson

26 Aug 2016 - 2:55 PM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2016 - 4:06 PM

 

The City of Fremantle has voted to end their fireworks show on the 26th of January from next year and do something more culturally appropriate instead. 

I think this is perhaps the first domino that will fall in the inevitable changing of the date of ‘Australia Day’, with Triple J’s Hottest 100 in the sights to be the second, and I am actually looking forward to the conversation that these changes will lead to.

Once this gets to critical mass, which I’m guessing isn’t that far off, it means there must be some form of national conversation about what date we would like to replace it with, or if we even need a national day at all.

I did an interview on the radio this morning, and the interviewer brought up some points that, although I've heard them before, made me stop and reflect. Upon reflection, those points have served to reinforce for me just how inevitable is it that we will change the date, how easy it would be to do, and that it could actually be a really interesting and educational process.  

One of the things he talked about was if the 26th of January best represented what he referred to as ‘modern Australia’, and I really don’t think it does. Sure, it was and will always be a hugely significant date but I don’t think it is one that best represents what we could call modern Australia. At best it represents the founding a British colony, and at worst it represents the pretty full on evil atrocities that followed.

Even the Federation I don’t think represents ‘modern Australia’, given that only white men were allowed to participate in it, and that their first Act of Parliament was an aggressively racist piece of legislation aimed at maintaining some supposed end of racial purity, and racial superiority over the ‘inferior races’ (their language, not mine). Maybe Federation best represents our current political structure, I guess, but I would like to think that our nation is more to do with our citizenry and our collective attributes and aspirations as a whole than just our politicians or political structures.

I would hope that ‘modern Australia’ begins sometime after everyone else was allowed to vote, after Indigenous people were made citizens, allowed to have paid jobs and attend mainstream schools, and after we ended the White Australia Policy. At the very least it should probably be sometime after the last acknowledged massacres of Aboriginal people (1928).

Despite the resurgence of aggressively racist politicians into our parliament, I feel it is fair to hope that modern Australia, as it is and as we would aspire for it to be, is not best represented by these periods in our history. That is not to say that we should forget these periods in history, just that maybe we shouldn’t celebrate them as representational of all that is ‘best about being Australian’.

Another point raised was whether or not changing the date is ‘divisive’. I have my own views on that term and its usage, but to take it at face value I would have to agree. It is divisive, but it is also much less divisive than the current date. We will never get a date that will please everybody so the question comes down to ‘who are willing to make unhappy with the date of Australia Day?'

Would we rather a date that has a long history of excluding Aboriginal people, or piss off people who don’t care that it is based around excluding Aboriginal people? Many seem to forget that it wasn’t all that long ago that the only Aboriginal people ‘invited’ to attend Australia Day were forced to be there to participate in re-enactments of the landing of the First Fleet. That’s not what I would consider to be a very inclusive gesture.

The final interesting point he raised was whether it was the most important thing we could be doing, e.g. reducing Indigenous incarceration rates. And again, at face value I’d have to agree, and if Australia wants to drop tools and focus solely on reducing the incarceration rates of Indigenous people then I am 100% on board and we can get back to changing the date of Australia Day once we get that sorted.

Changing the date lets us answer questions that I don’t think we often get much time to really reflect on or address - Who are we, as a nation? What do we stand for? What date in our history best reflects those values and attributes? 

If, however, we are going to continue to do a whole bunch of other things that also are less important then I think we can squeeze in time to change the date. I couldn’t imagine that we would need more than a few months or so to open up the floor for other suggestions, and we wouldn’t even need that many of us working full time on the job. We wouldn’t even need a plebiscite or to change the Constitution to do it.

Changing the date lets us answer questions that I don’t think we often get much time to really reflect on or address - Who are we, as a nation? What do we stand for? What date in our history best reflects those values and attributes? 

I have mused before on the possibility that maybe we haven’t actually done anything significant enough to sum up the best of how we would like to see ourselves, and that is a pretty important consideration as well. What does that say about us if the glowing image that we would like to project to ourselves and others doesn’t actually exist?

Maybe we would need to go back to the drawing board and hope that we can achieve a date in the near future that would represent that image – Closing the gap, perhaps? Reducing the high incarceration rates we mentioned earlier? Maybe we could stop torturing kids? Or how about we close the off shore detention centres and give people back their human rights? Or ending domestic violence? Even just not electing racist politicians would be a decent start.

I dunno, I’m not a futurist so I don't really know what changing the date would ultimately accomplish, but I still think it’d be a good exercise to trawl through our history considering different dates, and reflecting on what it is that we stand for. At the very least it sounds better than putting on flag capes, getting drunk, and spending millions of dollars on fireworks.