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Australia Day: when should we celebrate?

By Russell Grenning - posted Friday, 19 January 2018

The announcement by the Federal Greens Leader Senator Richard Di Natale that the party's local authority councillors will spearhead the campaign to change the date of Australia Day from 26 January raises one important question: if not 26 January, then when?

Four Councils – Freemantle in Western Australia and Moreland, Darebin and Yarra Councils in Victoria – have stopped official celebrations on January 26 saying that this day, commemorating the landing of the First Fleet at Port Jackson, is offensive to indigenous people as it marks, for them, Invasion Day.

Freemantle was the first Council to dump Australia Day and last year had its official celebration "One Day in Freo" Day on 28 January. Yet, inexplicably, there is no mention currently at all on its website of any similar celebration this year although seven events are listed for 26 January including a concert called "AC/DC Australia Day Tribute Party". The decision to cancel Australia Day celebrations split the community with businesses coming together to fund the traditional fireworks display.


The Moreland Council website provides an explanation about why they took their decision.

"Celebrations held on January 26 are known to have a disproportionately negative impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, many of whom experience the day as a sad and painful day. Council is now an active member of the Change the Date Campaign, along with the cities of Darebin and Yarra, to encourage the Federal Government to find another day that will bring all Australians together to celebrate our country," the announcement says.

However and very graciously the Council allows that "Council's decision not to recognise January 26 as a day of celebration does not impact the way our residents personally choose to spend the day." No doubt that concession by the Council was very gratefully received by residents.

However Moreland hasn't gone the full monty unlike Freemantle, Darebin and Yarra Councils and renounced its citizenship ceremonies on 26 January. The three other Councils who totally abolished every mention of Australia Day on 26 January were stripped by the Federal Government of their authority to hold citizenship ceremonies. Just how celebratory and festive the citizenship ceremony in Moreland will be on January 26 remains to be seen.

In Sydney, the Inner West Council flirted with the idea of scrubbing Australia Day celebrations but instead opted to offer additional citizenship celebrations during NAIDOC Week (8 – 15 July) which celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.

The Change the Date Campaign which The Greens have launched as an important and major priority campaign in 2018 only says that the celebration should be on "another date". This is not indentified and it seems nobody in The Greens or their allies seem to think that providing an alternative date is the least bit important.


According to Senator Di Natale, "All Australians want a day on which we can come together and to celebrate our wonderfully diverse, open and free society but January 26 is not that day. It's time we stopped papering over an issue that for two hundred years has been so divisive and painful for so many of our citizens."

Obviously, Senator Di Natale has no problem at all with acknowledging that Australia is a "wonderfully diverse, open and free society" so how that can be reconciled to his claim that Australia Day celebrations have been "so divisive and painful for many of our citizens" is problematic to say the least.

Quite apart from the fact that the Federal Government strongly opposes changing the date and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is reluctant to endorse any change, several ALP MPs have come out in support of a change. Various suggestions have been made for a new date from some significant event in the World War 11 Pacific campaign or the date (27 May) of the overwhelmingly successful 1967 referendum which marked the beginning of improved government services for indigenous people.

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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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