'Australia Day' Is it really for everyone?

'Australia Day' Is it really for everyone?
What do you call the 26th of January? Australia Day? Invasion Day? Survival Day? Day of Mourning ? Should we even celebrate it ? Australians have been long divided as to what to call this day. 

Charlotte Gomez / BuzzFeed

According to a 2021 national survey, the majority of people DO NOT believe that Australia Day should be celebrated on the 26th of January because of what it means to First Nations people.

Image from Australia Talks

So what is the real deal? Let’s dive into the history of Australia Day and what Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, say about it.

History of Australia Day

For more than 65,000 years, Aboriginal peoples have been living in the land we now call Australia. In the 13th century, Europeans started to become interested in the area of Asia and its surroundings including Australia. On 22 August 1770, Captain James Cook raised the Union Jack on what is now known as Possession Island to claim the eastern half of the continent for Great Britain as New South Wales.

Oceania, James Cook By TA Gilfillan / Philosophical Institute of Victoria, Australia. License: Fallen in the open (Public domain)

On 26th of January 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip, the first Governor of New South Wales and commander of the First Fleet of eleven convict ships from Great Britain, arrived at Sydney Cove and raised the Union Jack to signal the colony's start. In 1804, the Sydney Gazette and early almanacks and calendars began referring to January 26 as First Landing Day or Foundation Day. It was only in 1994 that the 26th of January was established as Australia Day.

Every year on January 26th, Australians are invited to observe a national holiday, now known as Australia Day. However, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as some non-Indigenous people, do not embrace Australia Day celebrations. We call it as Survival Day or Invasion Day. From this day in 1788 onwards, the colonising troops subjected First Nations people to massacres, land theft, kidnappings, and tyranny. The 26th of January is a day of grief for First Nations people, who remember the history that followed Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet.

The first Day of Mourning. From the left is William Ferguson, Jack Kinchela, Isaac Ingram, Doris Williams, Esther Ingram, Arthur Williams, Phillip Ingram, Louisa Agnes Ingram OAM holding daughter Olive Ingram, and Jack Patton. The name of the person in the background to the right is not known at this stage.

Image from AIATSIS Collection HORNER2.J03.BW.

Aboriginal leaders boycotted celebrations on the centennial of British colonisation on January 26, 1888, but the protest went unreported and ignored by the general public. The Day of Mourning and Protest was held on January 26, 1938, on the 150th anniversary of Arthur Phillip's landing, by Yorta Yorta man William Cooper and other members of the Aboriginal Progressive Association. Since the inaugural Day of Mourning, tens of thousands of Australians have gathered every year. They protest the 26th of January celebration. The scale of the protests grows every year. This is because more people learn about Australia's true history and what 26 January means to the First Nations community.


Australia Day Not Inclusive for Everyone

Image from Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Many individuals believe that in order to genuinely honour Australia, we need to select a date that all Australians can agree on.

A movement advocates for an alternate date to commemorate the national holiday. The objective of changing the date is to acknowledge that many people value having a specific day to commemorate where they call home, while also appreciating the tragic background and history that the 26th of January represents in particular.

Another growing effort seeks to have Australia Day abolished. This means that the national holiday, as well as the notion of Australia Day and what it commemorates, will be abolished. The movement emphasises that the values that are widely honoured on Australia Day, such as equality, freedom, opportunity, and our national identity, do not reflect the experiences of First Nations people and many other Australians.

What the Government Has to Say

Several local governments around the country have stopped commemorating Australia Day on January 26 — against the Federal Government's desires. The Prime Minister stated in 2021 that it was vital to commemorate the day as one on which "the road to modern Australia began."

AustraliaDay.org.au specifically states the following:

“Our First Peoples are the traditional custodians of our beautiful lands and waterways and have a fundamental role in the great Australian story.  We aspire to an Australia Day that can increasingly include a recognition and celebration by all Australians of the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to our nation.”

Our Take on the 26th of January

At DulcieDot we believe to celebrate ‘Australia Day’ in its current form on this day as is to ignore the dispossession, invasion and injustices forced upon First Nations people. 

On January 26 we mourn, we reflect and we celebrate the survival of our people.

As a nation we must recognise the historical truths and injustices committed upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Moving Australia’s National Day from January 26 is a not enough but  abolishing ‘Australia Day’ in its current form is moving towards a collective empathetic acceptance and understanding.