Australia Day

As one of the most hallowed days of nationalistic pride pencilled into our country’s calendar, Australia Day has become a very contentious celebration. 

Central to these objections has always been the indigenous context of the day, acknowledging the First Fleet’s arrival on shores occupied by Australia’s first people.

The City of Fremantle was responsible for re-igniting this year’s annual Australia Day date debate, announcing it would move its traditional citizenship ceremonies from the current date to a “culturally inclusive alternative” event, held on January 28.

The move was blocked by the federal government in a response spearheaded by a very insistent Alex Hawke, the Assistant Minister for Immigration.

But if January 26 is an inappropriate day, on what day should Australians cook snags, whack cricket balls over fences and tune in to Triple J’s “Hottest 100” countdown? We asked some experts. 

Dr John Morton

Researcher and honorary member of La Trobe University’s Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies

 “There was no such place called Australia before it was colonised, so you can’t name a day in the calendar that will fit the timelines that aboriginal people were involved with before Europeans came here…people never, ever think about that.

“I would negotiate a treaty with … a single confederation of indigenous nations, and I would make that treaty day, the national day.”

Fiona Petersen

Director of the Tjabal Indigenous Higher Education Centre at the Australian National University

“The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elected body brought the view forward that it doesn’t matter what other day you pick … just not that day.

“We were consulted about this by minister [Chris] Bourke’s office. The most popular day was the first day of NAIDOC week, but in Canberra people didn’t like that it was in Winter — people want to have big celebrations, the big concerts and things like that.”

Professor Mark McKenna

Australian history researcher at The University of Sydney

“You could pick the anniversary of federation, but until we have recognition of indigenous Australians in the constitution, then the idea of using federation as a date isn’t a good idea.

“A new national day will emerge and that will come from the recognition of indigenous Australians in the constitution and/or the declaration of an Australian republic. If that republic was to be achieved in a way that was inclusive, especially of our first peoples, then it could act as a genuine day of renewal, for the nation.”

Dr Ben Silverstein

Indigenous histories researcher at The University of Sydney

“It’s clear that marking Australia Day on the 26th of January celebrates the invasion of Indigenous peoples’ country. If we need a single day of celebration, then one option might be the 23rd of August, the day of the Gurindji walk off from Wave Hill in 1966 marking the birth of the modern land rights and sovereignty movement.

“I’d also question the need for a day … as much as we all love a public holiday.”

Dr Noel Nannup

Edith Cowan University cultural ambassador

“We don’t celebrate what they call Australia day. I think any other day but that one.”

“I think [a new date] is something that we could do as a collective. My date would be ANZAC Day.

“The rest of Australia has no problem celebrating Anzac Day… they certainly have a passion about Gallipoli — it’s the ‘fair-go mate”. Yet, here we are as Australian aboriginal people, who fought tooth and nail for our country and … we don’t even … recognise that that happened, and we’re supposed to move on. Black Australians died there as well.”

Peter Fray

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