Why don’t we celebrate Australia Day on a day all Australians can get behind? David Donovan comments.
I’m not excited about Australia Day.
I love Australia with a mighty passion, but how can I celebrate a day so steeped in sadness, so downright divisive?
And sad and divisive it is, because what Australia Day actually celebrates is the arrival of the First Fleet convict flotilla at Botany Bay — January 26, 1788.
That was the day the traditional owners of Australia were formally dispossessed by arrogant European settlers. For this reason, many Indigenous people call it “Invasion Day” or “Survival Day”. Because most Australians have all but forgotten the significance of the date, it is also called “Amnesia Day”. It is not a day of celebration for Indigenous Australians – who have been the proud custodians of the land for 60,000 years or more – but instead a day of lamentation and mourning.
So, as a mark of respect for my Indigenous compatriots – a people I respect and adore – I won’t be cheering on this day, I will be solemnly contemplating.
I will be thinking, also, about the convicts when they finally arrived in Australia after a hellish nine month journey in stinking, fetid, prison ships from Britain. These inmates were sent in inhumane conditions as punishment for what were often laughably trivial offences, or as political prisoners, transported because they were campaigners for democracy and self-determination. Arriving in Australia was no cause for celebration for them, but merely signalled their arrival at the place of their ultimate banishment. I can imagine them first setting sight on the rugged shoreline of Botany Bay and seeing this land as a harsh place of desperate loneliness and despair.
Australia Day does not celebrate the beginnings of an independent nation — it celebrates the establishment of a British convict colony and the annexation of an inhabited continent.
Let’s change the date we celebrate our national day.
Let’s have it on a day all Australians can feel pride and joy in — one significant to Australians in the 21st century, not on one steeped in sorrow and regret.