Australia Day

Discussions over the appropriateness of Australia Day being celebrated on January 26 continue each year with increased fervor.
The growth in intensity of this national conversation clearly indicates more Australians are conflicted by the date – chosen to commemorate 11 British ships arriving in Sydney Cove in 1788 to establish a penal colony in a land almost completely unknown by Europeans, but which had been inhabited by Aboriginal people for 60,000 years.
The day has been officially celebrated in NSW since 1818 and by all States since 1935.
But the recent understanding by modern Australian society of the sub-standard treatment of Aboriginal people by previous generations and the insensitivity of celebrating a day which marks the exact point when that abuse began, has pushed the debate of the appropriateness of January 26 to new heights.
More people are of the view that January 26 may not be the most unifying point and are calling for that anomaly to be rectified.
It must be remembered that the wrongs of the past cannot be changed and current Australians are not responsible for the opinions and actions of their forebears.
But what can be changed is for modern Australians to acknowledge those mistakes and, as a part of our inevitable social evolution, engage in honest and open dialogue to ensure this nation does not continue to fudge its history or sugar coat its blemishes as has happened in the past.
It must be remembered that history is written by the victors.
We must all work hard to ensure that any future Australia Day discussions are not hijacked by the extremes of the argument.
A mature, respectful and open debate on an issue of sensitivity is the sign of an intelligent nation – determined to achieve the best outcome.
It cannot be allowed to degenerate into an “us and them” argument and it is important our political and social leaders avoid this dangerous pitfall.
We should all ask ourselves a few questions – what do we stand for, what unites us and what does it mean to be an Australian? They are not complex questions but giving everyone ‘a fair go’ is likely to be a refreshingly familiar response – from gnarled bushies to the inner city latte set.
It’s a good starting point for a discussion.

For the full report, see the print issue of The Courier.