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?