Today is Australia Day.

Except that for many, Australia Day is known as Survival Day or Invasion Day- the anniversary of white Europeans invading the country we now call home. On this day, in 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip took possession of the colony of New South Wales and raised the British flag for the first time in Sydney Cove.  Along with a British flag, they brought weapons, diseases, their own laws, religion and more. Those first invaders cast a long shadow; the legacy of their actions still impacts the lives of Indigenous people today.

What if…?

The arrival of white people and what they did to “settle” here is most likely the reason I am here today. My English ancestors came out well after the First Fleet but if things were different, who is to say what they might have done? As a white person with a vague bit of English blood flowing through my veins (together with German, Serbian and who knows what else), I’m pretty sure that the Australia I have lived in all my life would be a different place if the British had chosen a different place to send their criminals.

Would it be better or worse? Could white people have come to live here peacefully under the sovereignty of Indigenous Australian people? Or would someone else have come along and been just as brutal as the English? Would we all be speaking French?

We can never know because history can’t be changed. And when it comes to history, Australia’s is relatively recent and gut-wrenching to examine. Indigenous Australians were quite literally slaughtered. Entire communities were wiped out. I could never quite understand how people could come here and simply take the land and kill it’s inhabitants. It’s hard to fathom when you have been raised with the knowledge that Indigenous Australians are, you know, actual people. I guess that arriving on a ship and declaring a country yours, despite the people already living there for 50,000 odd years, means you probably don’t actually consider those people to be fully human. I guess it was easy enough to do when just a few years before, that very land had been declared terra nullius– “land belonging to no one”.

Australia Day.

The date is an odd one on more than one level, when you think about it.  Barbecues and plastic flags to commemorate the day that a ship full of people in chains arrived. Many were sentenced to transportation for minor offences that spoke of their poverty and desperation more than their criminality. Australia flag tee-shirts and drinking beer out of an esky at the park to celebrate the day that the British arrived and simply took over an occupied land.

Australia Day

Is this really the day to celebrate modern Australia?

It’s been over 20 years since the High Court recognised that Captain Cook’s declaration of terra nullius was a convenient fiction for the British. Arrernte writer Celeste Liddle believes that, more important than changing dates, we should be engaged in negotiating a treaty over land rights. Listening to people like her, that take the time to help educate us, I have to agree. There is a lot to be done to achieve real reconciliation. A big part of reconciliation is  acknowledging the past in order to move forward. It would seem that this is a big part of where we are falling down. The date we celebrate is not the biggest impediment to reconciliation.

But it’s still an impediment.

There are calls every year to change the date of Australia Day. Yes, it would be largely symbolic, but wouldn’t it also be respectful? Isn’t it long overdue? When Indigenous communities keep voicing that celebrating on this day is an affront to them, that this is a day of mourning for them, shouldn’t we all be listening, rather than shouting at them to “Get over it!”?

I’d love to hear those dismissive voices telling Indigenous communities to “Get over it”  to pause long enough to hear their own arrogance. To be startled into silence by it and to begin to listen, instead. Imagine if our government could acknowledge the past fully and really work towards reconciliation.  Land rights, collaborative approaches to helping Indigenous communities, an end to discrimination.

It’s doubtful that I’ll see all of these things in my lifetime. But I do hope to see some of them. We could change the date, for starters.


Good articles to read:

What you need to know about reconciliation.

How to show solidarity with Indigenous Australians this Invasion Day.

Australia Day, Invasion Day, Survival Day: What’s in a name?

Why we need to change the date of Australia Day.

Also, everyone should follow Blackfulla Revolution on Facebook; I’ve learned so much from that page! 



Header image via Wikimedia, gif via Giphy.

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  • Nicely said…or written…I think changing the date is a start, but it’s a good one.

  • Australia has a long way to go with respects to nearly everything that has happened to the Indigenous communities. I agree, changing the date would be a respectful and small first step.

  • writeofthemiddle

    It DOES seem wrong to celebrate a day that the English declared this country theirs despite the indigenous inhabitants. I cannot bare thinking of what was done to the Aboriginal people back then. I do understand their distress at the annual celebration on this date. What would be a good date to change Australia Day to do you think? Maybe a day that gives some respect back to the indigenous people like for example February 13 (2008) – the day they got an official apology and acknowledgement for past mistreatments?!

    • I’m with Min. Make it Feb 13. As a forgotten Australian, I got an apology that day too so it’s meaningful for me also.

  • LydiaCLee

    In this country, we tend to celebrate a day off, Aussie music, being with friends, a long weekend away and a myriad of other things ‘Australian’. I know of know one who digs out the history books and uses the day to celebrate the arrival. So I see no harm in changing the day to celebrate Australia and being Australian, if the current day causes disharmony to some people. And I’m a fan of the May 8 suggestion because it’s funny, and there is nothing more Australian than that!

    • LydiaCLee

      no-one not Know one??

  • For some reason I think of Boxing Day as a very Aussie Day so think it should be the national holiday – even though it’s already a holiday.

    I find it hard to know what to say about today. I’m happy to celebrate being Australian, but very conscious of the fact the country was not settled.

  • Bree

    I love that you have brought these facts to light! I like the idea of celebrating modern Australia Day on May 8 how you can pick a more Aussie day than that (M8). haha

  • Such an interesting read, and thought provoking too. Yes I’m conscious of the fact that it’s not a good day to celebrate being Australian. #TeamLovinLife

  • Kirsty @ My Home Truths

    I don’t celebrate Australia Day and I would definitely support a change of date, at a minimum. January 26 and what it represents is divisive – surely it has to be better for all of us to find another day to celebrate our nation and nationhood. I’ve heard January 1 thrown up as an option as it represents the date of federation and I love the idea of May 8 (Mate) as it’s quite funny. As long as the date represents all of us, it has to be an improvement on the pain associated with the current date chosen to celebrate Australia Day.

  • As a family we enjoy Australia Day and showing gratitude for being able to live in such an amazing country with so much opportunity and cultural diversity. Some years we even wear flag clothes and put little flags in our food to further celebrate that appreciation. But for us it’s a mindset not a date. The mindset of feeling thankful of who we are and where we live today and thanks for living in a shared society. We could celebrate it any time of the year and wear whatever flag we (as a unified country) decided to have. Perhaps Australia’s birthday could be the day we became a Federation -1 January 1901. Or the date our PM said sorry (mid February?).

  • I have to agree. While it’s not as simple as a date change, that certainly can’t hurt!

  • I see and fully understand both sides of the argument on the Australia Day date debate. I also wonder if a date change would actually do anything at all? I think the issues would just carry along with the day no matter what date was decided upon. Would this unite us or divide us further? I don’t think the entire nation will ever be universally happy with any particular day.
    I would have liked to see our refugee crisis end on Australia Day though. Imagine if we accepted those who have been unfairly imprisoned (endlessly), as free and welcomed citizens on this day?

  • Kathy Marris

    Very interesting. I never knew any of this and feel very ignorant. I think a change of date wouldn’t hurt as Australia Day is too close to Christmas for my liking. #TeamLovinLife

  • I’m not Australian so I feel kind of odd commenting … but it seems like a fair idea to me. 🙂

  • For me, every day is Australia Day because every day I’m grateful that I get to choose to call Australia home. That said, January 26th is a day I’m happy to celebrate being an Aussie, but I do feel uncomfortable how distressing this can be for so many people. I’ve read a little bit of the history of the early settlement and the way the indigenous people were treated is nothing to be proud of or celebrated. We can’t turn back time but we can make a better future, and I think a change of date would definitely be a step in the right direction.

  • The City of Perth don’t do fireworks on New Year’s Eve, they wait to Australia Day and it just seems wrong. This year a plane taking part in the festivities crashed, killing two people, which saw the fireworks cancelled. What an uproar. I honestly think the meaning of Australia Day is lost. People see it as a public holiday, a time to booze it up. I wonder if holiday shouldn’t be scrapped altogether.