Republic Opinion

Say 'okay' to Australia Day in May

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9 May would be a perfectly appropriate date to commemorate Australia Day (Image by Dan Jensen)

There is an alternative date for Australia Day that holds historical significance and would be a sound replacement should the nation become a republic, writes GJ Burchall.

*This article is the monthly winner of the IA Writing Competition Most Compelling Article category.

THERE IS A perfectly sound, albeit little-known, intriguing and incontestable reason why 9 May is not Australia Day. If you happen to know what that reason is, please enlighten the rest of us and relieve our utter ignorance.

After all, this was the date, in 1901, when the First Federal Parliament opened. All Australian colonies, settled at different times – some penal, some “free” – had grasped the notion of becoming a nation.

And 26 January? The founding of Sydney. And strictly, not even that. The First Fleet had landed at Botany Bay, as instructed, but found James Cook’s descriptions of its bounties to be, at best, wildly inaccurate and at worst, cloud cuckoo land.

So, a week later, they swung around the next band of the coast into Port Jackson — which Skipper Cook had not even bothered to enter. He wanted to shoot off to arrange for his parents’ cottage to be delivered COD to Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens and then go bestir the indigenous of Hawaii, who obligingly speared him to death.

But, if 9 May is rejected and the consensus is to cling to 26 January, then simple: when the country becomes a republic, let it be proclaimed on 26 January. Thus, it will become truly national and not just Sydney-centric. It will still mark the day of “invasion” but at least we can together celebrate being out from under England's sway. 

Malcolm Turnbull (elected PM by his party and not sanctioned by popular vote) has gone slack-spine on the republic:

“I have led a ‘Yes’ case for a referendum into a heroic defeat once [in 1999] — I have no desire to do so again.”

(May we remind him that even when that sawn-off Welshman Billy Hughes lost the 1916 plebiscite for army conscription in WW1, he took another crack at it the following year. Lost again by an even larger margin. But you must admire a politician with the courage of his own delusions.)

That should not be a problem on the republic issue. You just “tweak” the question the way you want the outcome to go. Worked for “Honest John” Howard in ’99.

But, if a referendum is considered too problematic – only eight out of 44 passed in 120 years – why not a time-waste, money-pit, “royal” commission, in which punters are compelled to reveal, under oath, what we already know?

We find banks to be unethical greedheads — our invoice attached. Painters and Dockers used stand-over tactics — our invoice attached. Those really nasty bushfires were caused by lightning strikes, some by botched burn-offs and others by arsonists — our invoice attached.

Recommendations are proffered, filed and promptly forgotten. The Indigenous Deaths in Custody RC made some 300 urgent recommendations. Few were adopted. Since the Commission wrapped in 1991 after four years of much grim testimony, there have been at least another 500 Indigenous custodial deaths.

There must be several thousand better ways to fritter cash. Gold membership to the bizarre Australian Monarchist League perhaps, or a lifetime subscription to Royalty Monthly magazine.

What is “royal” about these commissions anyways? Let’s introduce commoner commissions. Just regular folk, Q and A inquiries and constructive debate about the recommendations thus produced. The first one can look at what this inbred, knuckle-headed “royal” family actually does and why it costs so bloody much — answer the second question first. (A cool half-million for each freeloader visit to the colony, for starters.)

Now we notice the dysfunctional family has demanded – and will receive – a huge pay increase. What is wrong with the people who enable this?

Yes, Australia owes a grand debt of heritage to Britain, to be sure. For Maralinga. For landing the troops at the wrong beachhead at Gallipoli in one war and abandoning them in Singapore in another. For the fox. The rabbit. Deer. Cats (both the wildlife-killer kind and the Andrew Lloyd Webber kind). Blackberry bushes. Institutional racism against Indigenous Australians and Irish Catholics.

It is the right time to get the republic back on the (fast) track. Even the Caribbean colonies are getting it done. But a model needs to be nailed down and serious constitutional matters considered.

Pirate Pete” FitzSimons, former captain of the good ship Australian Republic Movement, once cited then-Australian of the Year, former army chief David Morrison, as being the right type of person to be an Australian head of state. Well played, m’hearty — instant military coup.

Look, Australia is not about to burn down prisons and execute the “royals” (as did France), nor go into bloody conflict to oust England (as did Ireland, India and America). This can be done in a happy, healthy, holistic way.

Don’t you want to tell your children, your grandkids, that you were there “when” and that you helped make that “when” happen?

Granted, 9 May is less conducive to barbecue season, but if we can have Christmas in July (with zero religious relevance), surely we can have a true, national day in May.

And we’d also get to share the day in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa. Nice. And in the U.S., it is also National Lost Sock Memorial Day. So, that’s nice also.

GJ Burchall is a journalist, scriptwriter and educator who was born and bred in Melbourne.

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