My first Australia Day

Today is my first Australia Day in Australia and I have some thoughts.

I’d like to point out that I’m going to try very hard not to be completely tone deaf in this post – I thought about it a lot, but given I’m a) not an Indigenous Australian b) not actually an Australian at all but c) actually British and therefore responsible for this whole situation and NOT in a good way I’m walking on very thin ground.

[Sydney Harbour from above. You can just about see Sydney Harbour Bridge towards the top left of the photo, and that’s Bondi Beach at the bottom right]

To give a little background on Australia Day for those who don’t know, it commemorates the landing of the First Fleet in Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) back in 1788. The purpose of the fleet was to establish the infamous penal colony in land that had been claimed by Lieutenant James Cook for Britain eight years earlier. Cook had declared the land terra nullius, or nobody’s land, despite the Indigenous Australians he encountered on his trip. This breathtaking racism marks the beginning of what was arguably, although never formally recognised, the genocide of Indigenous Australians.

Many maintain that genocide continues today. The stolen generations continued until as recently until the 1970s, and despite policy refreshes and reframing the country is still a very long way away from closing the gap. The scale of the damage done to this 60,000+ year old culture cannot be understated nor underestimated.

So it’s an understandably controversial celebration, and there has been an increasing movement in recent years to acknowledging that. Two councils in Victoria have stopped holding citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day, Triple J have moved their iconic Hottest 100 event to a different day (which can now be known as Hottest 100 Day without irony) and there is a growing number of marches, events and festivals focusing on Indigenous Australian culture and survival. There are even calls for the day to be moved to a different date or scrapped entirely.

Meanwhile, ‘mainstream’ Australia Day celebrations do still continue and I’m torn. I am keen to be involved but I definitely see the problematic nature of the whole thing. With this being my first and possibly only Australia Day in the country, I do want to observe – but not necessarily participate.

So I think I’ll be taking in some of the events on the harbour, like the tug boat and yacht ballet (because how could you not?) but also hoping to honour Indigenous Australian culture by stopping in at the Yabun festival. I don’t know, we’ll see how it goes.

Do you have any controversial holidays in your country? How do you handle them?

-Rachel

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9 Comments

  1. 26th January 2018 / 09:50

    Good post Rachel – the British have a lot to answer for and not only in Australia. In an increasingly isolationist world it would be helpful if people learnt from the past. Those attitudes and beliefs displayed by historical figures like Cook belong in the past and have no place in todays society in my view. Glad there is discussion and debate about it. My husband is working (as usual..) so I am working on my blog.

  2. 26th January 2018 / 15:39

    It’s so contentious, isn’t it? For me, the “real” Australia Day is when I became a citizen and a real Australian and while I’m not proud about the history of January 26th, I am grateful for the wonderful life and opportunities Australia has offered me. So I guess on this day, I count my blessings.

  3. 26th January 2018 / 17:58

    Great post – I’m definitely aware of the controversy that surrounds Australia Day. And Thanksgiving in the US and Columbus Day.

    I’m glad we’re more aware of what actually happened on those days and that those that did get decimated are finally being recognized. 🙁

  4. 27th January 2018 / 01:40

    My sister actually had her citizenship ceremony on Australia day 8 years ago I vaguely knew the history but she was the first person to go in depth and tell me. I can imagine the bittersweet nature of the day.

  5. 27th January 2018 / 15:00

    It’s definitely a controversial day – moreso in the last few years than ever before as people are really beginning to think about why it’s a day that isn’t so festive. I kind of wish the government would just make another day so there’s not that controversy and tension. On January 26th we should celebrate the original owners of our land and educate ourselves and then we can celebrate the multiculturalism and spirit of Australia on another day.

  6. 28th January 2018 / 02:46

    Interesting post that I’ll probably think about for awhile. I feel this way about Thanksgiving, actually. It’s a longer conversation for a different day, but I struggle with this holiday and what it’s supposed to represent and how we’re perpetuating a myth based on lies.

    As the wise words from Wicked say,
    Wizard: Elphaba, Where I Come From, We Believe All Sorts Of Things That Aren’t True. We Call It History.
    A Man’s Called A Traitor
    Or Liberator. A Rich Man’s A Thief
    Or Philanthropist. Is One A Crusader
    or ruthless invader? It’s all in which label
    is able to persist.

  7. 31st January 2018 / 04:25

    So I seriously had no idea what Australia Day even was! From all of your Instagram snaps it seems like you had fun observing and taking in all of the festivities!

  8. 2nd February 2018 / 00:30

    Oh, the British definitely do have a lot to answer for. It’s awesome that we wanted to explore the world, but the whole conquering and taking it away from people who already lived there was seriously unnecessary. I know it was a ‘different time’ then (I don’t really think that excuses it, but maybe that’s because I can only see it from my perspective now) and I always wonder if any Brits disagreed with what we did – I guess I should look into it.

    I’m reading a book at the moment about the ‘discovery’ of British Columbia, and it’s got excerpts from explorers diaries and wow is it a shocking read. Some of them had so much disgust towards indigenous people for basically not being the same as they were. Most of it isn’t documenting things in just a factual way; you can tell from the words they’re using that they look down on them and think they’re nothing.

  9. 8th February 2018 / 20:44

    Interesting post, you’re threading that line very well lol. I have to say I’m not a fan of celebrating any days like that. In Quebec we celebrate midsummer with St John the Baptist day in June and in Scotland we celebrate St Andrew’s Day in November. I think that’s as far as I’ll go celebrating. I’m not a fan of people celebrating these colonial days, such controversial history and present in those.

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