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What is Australia Day really all about?

Australia Day controversy

How did you spend Australia Day on January 26th? Did you have a barbecue in your backyard? While I have nothing against celebrating and having fun, it’s important to remember what is being celebrated on this annual day. Go here to get a better idea about it all and read below to find out more about the Australia Day controversy.

What is controversial?

If you are like most people, you are probably ready to use any excuse that comes your way to fire up that BBQ and pop open a cold beer, and that’s perfectly fine. However, what isn’t acceptable is for people to keep turning a blind eye towards what exactly their national day represents. So, that’s what we are talking about today.

It’s time to take a short journey back in history to explain exactly why it is that some people can actually be offended by the whole idea of celebrating this day. You might have noticed that some of your acquaintances might not be so quick to jump to the opportunity of celebrating Australia day, and you must have been curious why. Don’t they love beer and BBQs? I can assure you that they do, but the simple truth is that they might prefer to eat, drink, and have fun on a different day.

The history behind it

As I already mentioned, we are about to take a quick trip down the lane of history to better understand this whole idea and finally get to the bottom of what makes January 26th so controversial. Why are so many people against celebrating the day of their nation on that particular date?

To fully want to understand it, we need to go back in time. I’m talking, way, way back in time.

You might already be aware of this fact, but let me make it clear just in case. Australia, as you know it today, did not always exist. Well, sure, the land was there, but the population was definitely quite different.

For countless years, it was occupied by Indigenous people. It wasn’t until the First Fleet’s arrival that things started to change, and this land was colonized.

The arrival of the First Fleet actually happened on January 26th, i.e., the date that is today celebrated as Australia Day. The colonization of the land was brutal. Land was taken, people were killed, and communities were largely oppressed.

What’s more, oppression didn’t stop until the late 20th century. That is definitely a long, long time after the First Fleet arrived and after Governor Arthur Phillip actually raised the British flag to signal the beginning of the British colony.

The stories of the stolen generations are still widely discussed today. The simple truth is that the Indigenous people’s oppression persisted for so long that some living Australians even remember it today. It’s unclear whether these people have achieved the deserved status of equality even today.

The fact that a formal apology didn’t happen until 2008 tells you pretty much everything about the oppression of the Aboriginals on these lands. It’s sad and shocking.

The dual meaning of Australia Day

Now it’s a lot clearer why some people do not recognize January 26th as the day of their nation. In a sense, this particular date has a dual meaning, and the people who occupied Australia prior to colonization don’t see the date as something worth celebrating. The white majority of this country is either ignorant of the issues that were going on back then, so they actually celebrate Australia Day on this date, or they choose not to know.

On the other hand, a vast majority of the Indigenous people, as well as the non-Indigenous ones who have decided to show their support, regard this date as a day of mourning. They call it Invasion Day or Survival Day.

Large numbers of their predecessors were actually killed during the colonization, meaning that they mourn on this day to pay their respects both to the people who fought and died and to those who fought and survived. Those who survived managed to save their culture from extinction.

Protests were inevitable

Given the duplicity of this day, people were bound to take a stand at one point and protest the celebration of a day that is a painful one for much of the Australian population. In 1988, tens of thousands of Indigenous people and their non-Indigenous supporters marched in protest of celebrating this particular date as the day of the nation.

After all, they are a part of the nation and celebrating the deaths, and the oppression of their predecessors certainly doesn’t make them feel that way. If you are curious about the controversies revolving around this particular date, here’s a comprehensive read that might be of help:

Australia Day: To change or not to change

The debate on whether this date should change or not is still going on today. While Australia Day in the 21st century is said to be organized to bring people closer together and unify the population, it seems that the only thing it is doing is dividing that same population.

Some Aussies are for changing the date, while others are against it. This difference in opinion leads to heated debates every single year.

The answer to the question of whether the date should change or not is far from simple, as you can see by the very fact that people have opposing opinions on it. I suspect it will take a while to make a decision about the Australia Day controversy. Yet, whatever happens, both the Government and the people must remember that Australia works best when people are united.

10 thoughts on “What is Australia Day really all about?”

  1. I had no idea what Australia Day signified, so thanks for the education. Native Americans were also treated badly when colonists came from other countries to settle here. It sadly seems to be a familiar story.

  2. Overall, the Aborigines immensely suffered because of colonialism’s supremist perception of their pre-colonial culture.

    Because they looked so different.

    I often say: remove the greatest difference among humans—race/color—and left are less obvious differences over which to clash, such as sub-racial identity (i.e. ethnicity), nationality, religion and so forth down that scale we tumble.

    (Add, say, a contemporary deadly disease to the ugly equation for a really hateful fire.)

    Therefore, what humankind may need to suffer in order to survive the long term—indeed from ourselves!—is an even greater nemesis (perhaps a multi-tentacled ET?) than our own politics of difference, against which we could all unite, attack and defeat—all during which we’d be forced to work closely side-by-side together and witness just how humanly similar we are to each other.

    Before people of colour became the primary source of immigration to North America — notwithstanding aboriginal peoples, who were treated by far the worst — thick-accented Eastern Europeans, although considered to be ‘white’, were the primary targets of mean-spirited Anglo bigotry.

    Albeit no Stanley Milgram, I hypothesize that if the U.S. and Canada, for example, were to revert back to a primarily white populace, the Eastern European newcomers with a stereotypically thick Slavic accent (and foremost if also brown-eyed) would eventually again become the main target of the dominant Euro-Canadian ethnicity.

    1. When you say if only we could “witness just how humanly similar we are to each other” I thought how beautiful that would be. If only… and it is heartbreaking to think how much inner growth so many people would have to go through to reach that point. As I have Slavic routes, your last part of the comment hit hard. There is still so much work to do in the world…

  3. Thank you also for this very important posting, Christy!
    I must admit that i have only now become aware of this matter. After all, Germany had lost its own colonies much earlier. We have here only a few people who want to get the country back in today’s Poland and the Czech Republic. We must certainly make up for the injustice of colonisation as far as possible.

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