Australia Day: Yay or Nay?

FlagsAustralia Day is our national holiday. It’s a day to celebrate how awesome Straya is… at least it used to be. There’s a growing movement to move Australia Day, or even get rid of it all together. And, in my opinion, its all wrong. I’ll explain why in a moment, but first, a history lesson for my non-Aussie friends.

If you ask the average Australian why we celebrate Australia Day on January 26, they will say its the date the First Fleet arrived in Australia (the first fleet being the first 11 British ships to come here. It’s our ‘Mayflower’.) Except, it’s not. The First Fleet arrived at Botany Bay between January 18 – 20. Botany Bay, as it turned out, is not a very nice place and they quickly realised it would make for a horrible settlement. They spent about a week sailing up and down before they found Sydney Cove. January 26 is just the date a few guys got out in a little row boat and ‘claimed’ the country for the British Empire. It wasn’t even an official settlement until February 7.

Anyway, lets get back to reality. Over the last few years accusations of cultural insensitivity have marred the usual Australia Day celebrations, since it marks start he British Invasion, except… it doesn’t. January 18 is when the first ship arrived, and the first actual conflict wasn’t until May. So here’s my thoughts. I agree that we need to remember the past, but I don’t think we need to get rid of Australia Day to do that. Why can’t we have an Invasion Day as well as Australia Day, not instead of?

People seem to forget how multi-cultural Australia Day is. Most of my Aussie friends are from families that came here after the settlement of Australia. In fact, a hell of a lot of people have immigrated here in recent years. Australia Day is about them too. It’s not just about the history of blacks and whites in Australia, its about celebrating what an awesome country this has grown into. Yes, we started in a bad way, but Australia has turned out to be quite a cool little country and I think we deserve to celebrate that. I think it’s important to remind people of this. We tend to forget how good we have it here. Most of us take the country for granted, so I think it’s important to use Australia Day to remind Aussies of what an awesome country we have. Australia Day is for being grateful for the present and hopeful for the future.

As for the date itself… well if Australia Day was moved, I wouldn’t be too fussed. As long as we still have it, then its totally fine. But, excluding history for a moment, January 26 is a convenient day for a holiday. Its the end of the school holidays, near the end of Summer and the last time the entire family can conveniently get together for a celebration before the regular year starts. Having said that if it is moved I wouldn’t really care. I mean, there’s a severe lack of public holidays towards the end of the year. Make it October or September, we need a break around then anyway. Just don’t get rid of it all together. Australia Day is important.

I understand where the objectors are coming from. I do think an ‘Invasion Day’ is necessary, although if it were up to me I wouldn’t call it that. ‘Aboriginal Day’ sounds much better. I just worry that we’re in danger of being too negative. We shouldn’t send the message that white Australians should be guilty for what happened when none of us were alive when it happened. We shouldn’t send the message that Australia is bad and Australians should be ashamed of themselves.

I do think you can commemorate the past in a positive way. There are inspiration stories to tell that almost nobody knows about. And as an example, I’d like to introduce you all to Pemulwuy. Pemulwuy is a suburb of Sydney and is named after an Aboriginal warrior who started a resistance movement against the British settlement of Australia. Honestly, he was a god damned superhero. He could run faster than anyone, fight better than anyone, throw spear more accurately than anyone. You can read the Wikipedia page if you want to know his whole story, it’s too long to include it all here. There’s also the book “Pemulwuy: The Rainbow Warrior” by Eric Willmot. But here’s my favourite part of his story.

Governor Phillip ordered Lieutenant Tench to do something about this annoying Pemulwuy guy, so on December 14, 1790, Tench and some marines set out to track him down. Now first of all, there’s no way a bunch of white guys are going to track down an Aboriginal in their own land, so I feel like this expedition was doomed to fail from the start. Naturally they found no sign of him whatsoever. On December 22 they tried again, and at 2am in the morning they reached Wolli Creek. They tried to cross it, but got stuck in the mud. Lieutenant Tench himself was trapped waist-deep in mud and had to be pulled out to land with the end of a tree branch. Their weapons were damaged by the mud, so they were forced to trudge back to Sydney empty-handed, defeated by mud.

Basically Pemulwuy was an awesome, inspirational man. He got shot in the head and continued fighting. Hell, his skull was cracked open and it didn’t kill him. He continued fighting for years after. But as an average Australian, I had never heard this story before. I feel like an Aboriginal Day would allow for positive stories like this to be told.

I guess what I’m saying is, it’s important to remember the past as well as celebrate the present and be hopeful for the future. And we can do it all in a positive way if we really want to. We can make everyone happy if we really try. As for Australia Day itself, well, its also my birthday so I may be a little bias. My personal preference would be to keep Australia Day the way it is and celebrate / commemorate Aboriginal History and Culture on a separate day. If it does get moved, so be it, but Let’s be happy about it. I don’t think positivity is too much to as for, is it?

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