Australia Day

The debate surrounding the date of Australia Day seems to divide opinions as cleanly as same sex marriage.
For an issue which doesn’t directly affect most citizens, any suggestion of a change can evoke deep emotions, again, much the same as marriage equality.
A recent survey revealed the majority of Australians had no idea January 26 was the date in 1788 that Captain Arthur Phillip stood on the beach at Sydney Cove and proclaimed – largely to himself, some staff and possibly a few bemused Aboriginals – that this land was now part of the British Empire.
But for the few survey respondents who knew the back story to the date, most Australians (56%) have no specific preference for a national day, just as long as there is one.
It is worth remembering a few facts that have occurred in the 230 years since that bizarre ceremony near where the Opera House now stands.
Since then Aboriginal people have been driven off their lands, shot, poisoned, raped, infected with disease, enslaved, murdered and marginalised. They had their children forcibly removed and were not counted in the nation’s census until 1967.
They could not vote, own land or enjoy a drink in a hotel. They were, however, allowed to fight and die in wars … but not join the RSL on their return.
The treatment of Aboriginal people is a sad and sorry chapter in this nation’s history and one which has been hidden from subsequent generations.
It is fair to say most Australians do not know the truth about how Aboriginal people were treated in the colonial era.
Thankfully modern Australians are slowly beginning to see the deep and rich culture to which our early settlers were blind.
With 60,000 years of continual occupation it is easy to understand that the Aboriginal connection to the land is strong – the same land that was ripped away from them in a few decades.
While today’s Australians cannot undo the wrongs of the past we have a responsibility to acknowledge those mistakes and remain vigilant to ensure our society is strengthened by the lessons learned from them.
The best this debate over our national day can hope to achieve is a greater level of respect and understanding.
After all it’s just a day … there are 364 others on which to make a difference.