The French have Bastille Day, and Americans have Independence Day; down under, Australians celebrate Australia Day each year on the 26th of January. The national holiday marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the first fleet in Port Jackson, New South Wales; however, the Indigenous community refers to the occasion as ‘Invasion Day’ as it marks the start of white settlement and a lengthy period of Aboriginal genocide and injustice.
For most Aussies, Australia Day is spent with mates at a pool party or with an esky down at the beach. Southern Cross flags are worn as capes, and Triple J’s Hottest 100 blares from the speakers as sausages sizzle and sangria flows. Records of celebration date back to 1808, and by 1935, every state commemorated the day. In 1994, the 26th of January officially became a unified public holiday; however, the decision did not unify all Australians.
Last week, Brad Pettitt, mayor of the Western Australian city Fremantle, proposed cancelling next year’s Australia Day celebrations, telling Nine News, ‘It’s too complex a day to blow up fireworks and cheer what a great nation we are.’ The plan was quickly backed by members of the Aboriginal community, but a poll conducted by Nine News found 85 per cent of readers opposed the move.
Only days earlier, the National Australia Day Council ‘quietly cancelled’ The Australia Day Live concert due to ‘weather and safety’ concerns after a storm at this year’s event. The concert has been an annual fixture during the Australia Day celebrations at Parliament House since 2004, attracting thousands of locals and big names including Jimmy Barnes, INXS, Matt Corby, and Guy Sebastian. The council has announced that in place of the concert, the Australian of the Year Awards will take place in the Great Hall at Parliament House. The decision has infuriated ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr who said he ‘cannot justify such significant financial support for an invitation-only event that would effectively exclude Canberra families.’
The third argument surrounding Australia Day 2017 targets ‘the world’s greatest music democracy’ – Triple J’s Hottest 100. The station has been urged by a poll created on change.org to change the date ‘to a less inflammatory and more inclusive date for First Nations’ Peoples.’ The petition has been signed by 796 supporters, 204 short of the 1,000 goal.
Those who oppose the current date of Australia Day celebrations suggest September 1, Wattle Day; January 1, Federation Day; July 9, Constitution Day; February 13, Kevin Rudd’s apology to the stolen generation; and April 11, White Australia Policy abolished.