Australia Day Vs Invasion Day
As far as National Days go, they’re often chosen to celebrate the day a country became independent and such like. For Australia, our Government decreed public holiday on 26 January marks the day in 1788 that Captain Arthur Philip arrived with the first fleet to establish a penal colony at Sydney Cove for the British. It marks the start of colonisation. The date didn’t become a national public holiday until 1994. For many years it was simply thought of by non-indigenous people as “the long weekend in January”. It was good for cricket, the beach, a barbeque or a wedding. And yet for years, the date has caused anguish to many if not most of our First Nations people. Now the momentum to change the date is gaining traction.
Since 1938, Aboriginal people marked 26 January as a Day of Mourning – now more frequently referred to as Invasion Day and sometimes Survival Day.
Here is the case to change the date put very simply (and inadequately). The lived experience of most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people since 26 January 1788 is one of dispossession of land and culture. Genocidal government policies and practices towards them have caused extreme disadvantage. This includes a massive gap in the life expectancy of First Nations people compared to all others, with a grossly disproportionate number of Aboriginal people imprisoned and dying in custody. Having been excluded from policies and decisions that affect them, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have most recently been denied a representative voice to parliament.
Rather than a day of national celebration, 26 January is a polarising date and will remain that way until we can truly share the words “Australians ALL let us rejoice”. Changing a single word in our Anthem from “young and free” to “one and free” sure helps, but not much!
More organisations and individuals now refer to the public holiday as “26 January” instead of “Australia Day”, recognising the distress caused to so many indigenous people.
Every government department acknowledges and pays respects to traditional owners and custodians of the land on which they meet. Yet the Government also insists that 26 January remains Australia’s National Day. Any opposition, or suggestion that we change the date is said to be “divisive”. Clearly, our elected officials don’t see the issue as being much of a threat to votes. So it is organisations like Cricket Australia and the ABC that are taking the lead, rather than the Government.
Cocktail Revolution acknowledges and pays respect to past, present and emerging Traditional Custodians and Elders and the continuation of cultural, spiritual and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We believe the date that set colonisation in train is not one that can be celebrated by those to whom so much pain and distress has been caused. 26 January is inherently a divisive date and therefore inappropriate as a national day.
Because not all Australians can celebrate on 26 January, we must change the date. Doing so will show genuine respect to our First Nations people. Yes, changing the date is symbolic and not a practical solution redressing actual issues. But it is symbolism above all else that national days are all about.