The day that’s lost its way

Herald Sun - - OPINION - TUES­DAY, JAN­UARY 15, 2019

AS we drift into the lat­ter half of Jan­uary these days, my mind some­times slips back to a place where I once lived as a child and a young man. It was a coun­try called Aus­tralia that had, since 1946, marked Jan­uary 26 as Aus­tralia Day on its calendars. The date, com­mem­o­rat­ing the be­gin­ning of the full-scale British coloni­sa­tion of the con­ti­nent, mostly passed un­re­marked.

The only time the peo­ple cel­e­brated Aus­tralia Day on that date was when Jan­uary 26 fell on a Mon­day. When I say “cel­e­brated”, what I mean is that they en­joyed a day off work, for the pur­pose of Aus­tralia Day was to fur­nish the na­tion’s work­ers with the first long week­end of the year.

For decades, there was hand­wring­ing among civic wor­thies about the in­dif­fer­ence Aus­tralians dis­played to­wards Aus­tralia Day. The re­frain went like this: Shouldn’t we show more pride in our na­tion and be more like Amer­i­cans on the Fourth of July?

In the 1960s, a group of Vic­to­ri­ans started an Aus­tralian of the Year award; and in the 1970s, ri­val awards sprang up else­where. the Aus­tralian na­tion state and the dis­pos­ses­sion of na­tive Aus­tralians that took place in or­der to al­low for the cre­ation of the na­tion.

Mak­ing Jan­uary 26 our na­tional day will for­ever be con­tentious for that sim­ple rea­son; there will al­ways be some Aus­tralians who will see that date as the day that Aus­tralia was in­vaded and its indige­nous peo­ple con­quered.

Given how much trou­ble the Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son is in, it was lit­tle won­der that in his first pre-elec­tion an­nounce­ment, he walked right into that con­tentious space. When your party is on the nose with vot­ers and your poli­cies aren’t gain­ing trac­tion, try em­pha­sis­ing your val­ues. At least then you might rein­vig­o­rate the sup­port­ers you have left. Mor­ri­son is go­ing after lo­cal coun­cils. A hand­ful of coun­cils, em­bold­ened by the Greens’ pol­icy of chang­ing the date of Aus­tralia Day, have messed about with their cit­i­zen­ship cer­e­monies and sought to hold them on other dates. The gov­ern­ment has stripped them of the abil­ity to hold cit­i­zen­ship cer­e­monies and is now go­ing a step fur­ther to block other coun­cils from chang­ing the date.

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