It is Australia day on Saturday (26th January) and despite this day being a public holiday across Australia, many people in Australia will not taking part in the celebrations. In fact, huge protests occur every year, sometimes at Australia day events, with estimates for numbers in attendance at the 2018 Melbourne protest at between 40 to 60 thousand people.
So why does Australia Day garner such opposition? Well, Australia Day marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the first fleet of British ships at Port Jackson, New South Wales, and the raising of the flag of Great Britain at Sydney Cove. It is no surprise then that since at least 1938, the date of Australia Day also been marked by indigenous Australians (and those sympathetic to their cause), as a day of mourning for the invasion of their land by Europeans. These groups are fundamentally opposed to this day being celebrated as a national holiday, and refer to the day as ‘invasion day’ or ‘survival day’. These groups argue that the date should be changed, or that the holiday should be abolished entirely.
The invasion of Australia caused undescribable sorrow to the indigenous people. Historian Geoffrey Blainey describes the events during the colonial period; ‘In a thousand places there were occasional shootings and spearings. Even worse, smallpox, measles, influenza and other new diseases swept from one aboriginal camp to another’. It is not hard to see why, instead of celebration, Aboriginal people prefer to commemorate the profound losses they suffered. They lost their right to their own land, they lost their family, and they lost the right to practice their own culture, and speak their own languages.
Aboriginal Activist Michael Mansell sums up the feelings of many Aboriginal Australians in saying that “Australia day is 26 January, a date whose only significance is to mark the coming to Australia of the white people in 1788. It is not a date that is particularly pleasing for Aborigines […] the British were armed to the teeth and from the moment they stepped foot on our country, the slaughter and dispossession of Aborigines began”.
Before the British Fleets arrived in the late 1700s, it was estimated that there were about 750,000 Aborigines in Australia . By the 1920s, this number had fallen by around 90%. It is not difficult, then, to see why a day that celebrates such profound tragedy is wildly insensitive to indigenous Australians. As Michael Mansell states ‘January 26th marked the beginning of the murders, the rapes and the dispossession. It is no date to celebrate.”
Do you think the date of Australia Day should be changed/ abolished out of respect for the Australian Aborignal population? If so, the International Year of Indigenous Languages would be the perfect time make this change. Join in the discussion on our social media pages!