Australia Day is our national day. It’s a time for celebrating the great nation we’ve become despite our relative isolation and difficult beginnings. It’s also a time for reflecting on the mistakes of our forefathers, and to re-commit to fixing the ongoing consequences of those mistakes.
Most of the mistakes and wrongs were made by people long before our time. But as a continuing nation state, culture, and community, we have a responsibility to fix ongoing adverse legacies.
Indigenous Australians die younger on average, suffer poorer health, and are less likely to have a job or own a home. Most of these examples of disadvantage can be traced back to their treatment at the hands of the early settlers in the first instance and then for decades, less than enlightened government laws and administration. Remember, indigenous Australians were not even recognised as part of our country until 1967.
Since 2007 we’ve been talking about “closing the gap”. In other words, addressing the areas of disadvantage I’ve mentioned. But our progress has been modest, and we need to do better. If we can do better, debates like the appropriateness of the day on which we celebrate our nation may ebb away.
Having said that, I believe the current concern about the date on which we celebrate our nationhood is an understandable one. The question we need to ask is: how can we celebrate in a unifying way when so many of us are offended by the chosen day? It’s not as if we’ve always marked the occasion on January 26. Indeed, we’ve only done so since 1994.
So, while what we celebrate is of historical significance, the day chosen to commemorate it is not. I see no harm in a sensible conversation about how we might make the day on which we celebrate our nationhood and success, more inclusive and unifying. We can’t change the mistakes of those who went before us, but we can do our bit to heal the consequences.
Finally, I have always been a great fan of our public broadcaster. There is nothing more Australian than the ABC. But the decision to call Australian day “invasion” day was a bad one. It’s a decision far more likely to further divide, not unite. I hope the error is acknowledged and lessons are learned.
Happy Australia Day. Let’s hope 2021 offers more than did 2020.