The day that’s lost its way
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.