I appreciate the public holiday, I really do, and this being a country I love I wish I could celebrate. Alas, I cannot.
When I cam to Australia I’ll admit that I was ill prepared for the adventure that would lie ahead, the exhilaration I get from just being here. If I travel abroad on holiday I feel like I’m going on holiday just by coming back to Australia. This place takes my breath away. I can stand in the outback, looking out over scenery that probably looked just the same thousands of years ago. There’s a spirit in this place, something that touches my soul (and I’m atheist). The people here have an openness and genuine spirit it’s difficult not to like. Australian’s work to play is the summary of it – they have the right idea.
I didn’t come here as an immigrant. I came as a citizen, courtesy of my father. But I spent most of my life in the UK. I might be Australian, but I haven’t lost the Britishness. Nonetheless, I feel closer to this country than I ever have to the UK.
Even so, I’d never been the biggest fan of nationalistic celebration. I understand it, I get, but I never really embraced it. Being in Australia, having gained so much, I feel like I want to be a part of that celebration, giving back in some way for all Australia’s done for me. I would love to do it, but I can’t.
Some people call Australia Day Invasion Day. I can see why. If I really need to describe all the awful consequences of colonialisation, then I’m probably wasting my time, but it’s been brutal. Land taken away, murdered, raped, and their children stolen – Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islanders have suffered greatly for the benefit of Anglo civilisation. I’ve got to be frank, but holding Australia Day on the day ‘commemorating’ the arrival of the British fleet, would be like Germany holding a national day on the same day as the Wannsee Conference.
I know, when Australians celebrate Australia Day they’re doing it to celebrate. To have fun, being Australian.I don’t see many people actively celebrating the colonialisation and racist policies and actions that followed. Most understand the past, even if not everyone is ready to face up to it.
So the people protesting today, the ones that call it Invasion Day. They’re not asking to stop Australia Day, they want to celebrate. I do too. All that’s being asked for, is for the date to be changed. That’s it.
This isn’t political correctness – that’s the far right bogeyman used to justify prejudice. It’s about what’s right, respecting the indigenous population and having humility before the past. I realise it would be hard for some people; accepting crimes of the past, even for ancestors, can be difficult. Changing the date might be implicitly accepting that responsibility, and that guilt. I get that’s hard. But it needs to be done.
I’m not so detached from nationalism that I can completely ignore the cultural need for collective identity and celebration, but to celebrate Australia Day on this day, of all days, is unacceptable to my core. If you want to have a good day and enjoy with friends and family, go for it, but ask yourself, would it really make any difference if it was 25th January or the 27th? I don’t think so. Let those like Barnaby Joyce crap over honest and principled sentiment, let people collectively, together, celebrate, and please understand that holding Australia Day on the same day, that almost led to the extermination of the indigenous population, is not inclusive. Change the date, so that all Australians can celebrate together.