NSW Penal Colony Establishment Day? Managing editor Dave Donovan proposes a name change for the January 26 public holiday, so Australians know exactly what it commemorates.
AS YOU MAY have become aware, the Australia Day public holiday is on again this Friday — 26 January. You may also have noticed a battle raging about this event, fiercer than ever before.
On one side, there are people who want to change the date because, to them, glorifying January 26 is highly offensive and hurtful. On the other, there are people who think 26 January is a salubrious day to commemorate. On the sidelines are the majority of people, who don’t really care what day the holiday occurs, just so long as it does — preferably sometime during the summer.
But who is right and what can be done? It's a quandary, to be sure — but don’t worry! Because the home of independent thought, Independent Australia, has just come up with an ingenious solution that should satisfy everyone.
To begin with, it occurs to us that the problem with our current 26 January holiday is not so much the date, but the name. Because the 26 January is not really about “Australia” at all, but rather about the day in 1788 the British established its first penal colony at Port Jackson, in what was then known as New Holland, but was soon renamed the Colony of New South Wales. The NSW penal colony first began celebrating this day on the 30-year anniversary of this event, in 1818, when it became known as “Foundation Day”. This name persisted in NSW well into the 20th Century, long after the nation of Australia was eventually founded. Prior to the centenary of the start of the penal colony on 26 January 1888, Foundation Day was very much a NSW affair, with each of the other colonies marking their own establishment date. As we reported last week, it wasn’t until 1994 that the 26th of January was uniformly marked by a public holiday in all Australian states and territories.
So, while 26 January does not mark the formation of Australia, which happened on 1 January 1901, it does recall an important event in our colonial history — the establishment of a British penal colony at Sydney Town in NSW.
The (mercifully) former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott explained why he thinks Australians should celebrate this particular event in a (mercifully) paywalled article in the Liberal Party daily newsletter, The Australian, on Monday, 22 January [IA emphasis]:
‘Sure, not everything’s perfect in contemporary Australia; and it’s possible that Aboriginal life could have continued for some time without modernity bursting upon it, had governor Arthur Phillip not raised the Union flag and toasted the king on January 26, 1788, but it’s hard to imagine a better Australia in the absence of the Western civilisation that began here from that date.’
As you just saw, Abbott confirms that 26 January 1788 does not mark the establishment of Australia, as the continent of Australia had already been settled by “Aboriginal” people (for 65,000+ years). What it celebrates, he points out, is the raising of the British (Union) flag, the claiming of the land for the British monarchy, and the supremacy of Western civilisation over Indigenous Australian culture.
Many people ‒ including, presumably, many £10 Poms like himself ‒ would agree with Tony Abbott that all of this is well worth lauding. Of course, many other £10 Poms ‒ and, indeed, people of all other cultures, ethnicities and persuasions ‒ would vehemently disagree with Abbott that this is a cause for celebration.
Everyone in Australia, however, can grasp Tony's reasoning.
So, in the interest of historical accuracy, to solve this dilemma, IA proposes a name change for the 26 January public holiday. A change, so that it is clear to all ‒ as it is to Tony ‒ exactly what we are celebrating on that day when we whack a lamb chop on the barbie, peel a king prawn and raise a frothy ice-cold beer to our lips.
Many already call this day Invasion Day and/or Survival Day, but, while completely accurate, some may suggest these descriptions could be seen as a trifle divisive and prone to hurt the fluffy, soft, white feelings of British imperialism enthusiasts like Abbott (heaven forfend!)
So, we have a few other suggestions.
What about "NSW Penal Colony Establishment Day"? This could be a fun day, involving dress up and historical re-enactment. Some of us ‒ the majority ‒ could don loose-fitting white slacks and blouses, decorated with thick black arrows, and lug around a ball and chain; while others ‒ people like Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott ‒ could dress up in red coats and funny tricorn hats, and march around holding fake muskets. The “redcoats” could, when they saw the others, bark commands and mime shooting, after which the “convicts” could theatrically fall over and act dead or mortally wounded. Then, to top it off, all around Australia, we could stage mock public floggings in town squares. What a lark!
(Image via bambamcostumehire.com.au)
Also an option is “White Settlement Day”, where we could hand out old eugenics textbooks, and have representatives from the IPA giving free public lectures about the “superiority” of the “white man” over the “coloured races”.
January 26 could also be called “Western Civilisation Day”, where we celebrate the joyous advent of Western civilisation on this continent. This day could be recognised by large collections of Indigenous artefacts being incinerated in bonfires on the outskirts of towns. There we could all kneel before huge altars filled with attractive consumer objects ‒ like Iphones and RayBan sunglasses ‒ which could be solemnly placed by corporate dignitaries in khaki containers, emptied into big yellow trucks and dumped in nearby landfill.
Another option is "British Colonisation Day", where we celebrate British colonial achievements in Australia and, indeed, all around the world. Men in pith helmets and safari suits could hand out large maps with all of Britain’s former colonial possessions shaded red, just like they used to do in schools during Britain’s heyday. Or perhaps "British Settlement Day", where we raise the Union flag, sing ‘God Save the King’ and toast King George III. How charming!
Or maybe we could just call it "Britain Day", where we celebrate that we still have a British flag, a Westminster Constitution and an English head of state? Wait! Scratch that idea, we already have the Queen’s Birthday for that.
You get the general idea. Let’s not beat around the (nothing but) bush, let’s be like Tony and be upfront about just what we are celebrating on 26 January.
Of course, the best part about this idea is that, by being marked correctly, this Day will be celebrated precisely once before the Australian people inevitably decide to become a republic. After that, we could just celebrate Independence Day every year ‒ perhaps we could even call it “Australia Day” ‒ and everyone might be content.
You’re welcome! Do you have a suggestion about what to rename Australia Day? Put it in the comments after this article.
This editorial was originally published in the weekly Independent Australia subscribers only newsletter and in the IA members only area. You can receive managing editor David Donovan's editorials in your inbox by subscribing to IA.
You can also follow Dave Donovan on Twitter @davrosz.