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Australia Day: when should we celebrate?

By Russell Grenning - posted Friday, 19 January 2018


For a change in Australia Day to be implemented it would not only require the approval of the Federal Government but of all States and Territories as well.

Our public holidays are a patchwork quilt as these days are set by State and Territory Governments. For example, Western Australia Day will be celebrated as a public holiday on June 4 but this could hardly be seen as appropriate for the Change the Date Campaign as its commemorates the foundation of a British colony in 1829. Western Australia has broken with the rest of the country which celebrates the sovereign's birthday on June 11 and moved its Queen's Birthday holiday to September/October. Either date must be a cause for some subdued mirth in the Royal Family as Her Majesty's birthday is actually April 21. Queensland Day is June 6 which commemorates the creation of a separate colony in 1859 but the mean old State Government has never ever declared it a public holiday. Victoria Day is 1 July commemorating the 1851 day when it became a separate colony and it isn't a public holiday either.

The problem faced by the Change the Date campaigners is that whatever alternative date is chosen it would be welcomed by some and derided by others. It would probably face the same fate as the ill-fated Republic referendum in 1999 when a major reason for that failure was a failure by pro-republic campaigners to agree on how a future President would be elected or selected.

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Countries around the world have always had problems deciding what should be the national day. Germany prior to 1871 was a collection of often pocket handkerchief kingdoms and dukedoms which all had their separate celebrations based on local factors, between 1871 and 1918 was an Empire, from 1918 to 1933 was the Weimar Republic, from 1933 to 1945 the Third Reich, from 1945 to 1954 occupied by Allied troops, from 1954 to 1990 was two countries (Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic) and since 1990 as a unified republic.

Over its chequered history there have understandably been several national days.

The new unified republic originally considered having November 9 – the day the Berlin Wall came down – as its new national day until somebody remembered that this was the date of the first major Nazi pogrom against its Jewish citizens in 1938 and the failed coup by Hitler in 1923. So October 3 was chosen as it was the day the communist German Democratic Republic bowed to the inevitable in 1990 and voted itself out of existence.

Some Jewish citizens objected to that date as, on that day in 1941, all elderly Jewish men in the Ukraine were murdered and six synagogues in Paris were blown up, both by the Nazis. But it was delicately pointed out that simply no day of the year between 1933 and 1945 had been good days for Germany's Jews.

Perhaps Melbourne Cup Day – the first Tuesday in November – could be adopted by the Change the Date crowd as this is the day when a race stops the nation. Most of us like to celebrate with a flutter and it is already a holiday in Victoria.

But, then again, the anti-gambling puritans would be unhappy. Oh dear, another divisive day.

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About the Author

Russell Grenning is a retired political adviser and journalist who began his career at the ABC in 1968 and subsequently worked for the then Brisbane afternoon daily, The Telegraph and later as a columnist for The Courier Mail and The Australian.

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