Below is an excerpt from Crystal Andrews‘ book ‘How To Win Every Argument: A No-Filter Guide To Being Right About Everything’. The two sides to the Change The Date discussion were written in consultation with Marlee Silva, founder of Tiddas 4 Tiddas.
Here we are again: New Year, new January, same Australia debating whether or not to change the date of the national holiday.
Maybe you’re going to end up in a heated argument at a BBQ this weekend (don’t blame you), or perhaps you’ve only just started to explore your own feelings on the topic (don’t blame you either).
Either way, it really pays to understand both sides of this one, because you can’t change minds or win arguments without understanding your opposition’s POV.
You just can’t.
I should know, because that’s the entire premise of the book I spent the past year writing: breaking down the arguments and counter-arguments of important social issues to help young people speak up about the stuff they really care about. Things like festival pill-testing, renewable vs. fossil fuel-generated energy, whether free speech is dead and, yes, a whole chapter on Survival/Australia Day.
So, before you get into a Facebook comment war with a profile picture of a V8 Commodore, read the below excerpt from How to Win Every Argument: A No-Filter Guide to Being Right About Everything. It’ll help, promise.
January 26: Should We Change the Date?
Why we should change the date.
While marketed as a day of celebration, January 26 marks the day that Australia’s First Nations people lost their country. The date signifies the beginning of a long, painful history of bloody genocide, slavery, stolen land and stolen children that lasted hundreds of years. Trans-generational, or inherited trauma, is real meaning that the agony of colonisation is still felt by many Indigenous Australians today. Not to mention, the colonial structures that are at the foundation of the Australia we now know are still very much impacting on the experiences of Indigenous people, and ultimately, continuing to oppress and disadvantage them systematically.
By contrast, many non-Indigenous Australians don’t actually know what the date signifies. In 2017, the Australia Institute found a whopping 62% of people did not know what the day marked. And yes, the survey was multiple choice. So if a lot of us don’t even know what the day is for, what’s the harm in picking a date that’s less distressing?
Australia Day was only formalised as a national holiday in 1994 – to some, that’s not a very longstanding tradition. While it has been celebrated in NSW as far back as 1818, we’ve only been doing it as a united country for a couple of decades.
By comparison, Indigenous Australians have been protesting on the date since 1938 – well before it was made a national holiday! The Indigenous communities declared it a Day of Mourning that remains recognised to this day.
January 26 is a source of pain that non-Indigenous Australians just don’t experience and sends a message to Indigenous people, the true custodians of the country we enjoy, that they aren’t part of the story of this nation. It’s time to air our dirty laundry and heal the wounds side by side, and make a better future for all Australians. After all, doesn’t the national anthem say: ‘Australians all let us rejoice’?
Before you arc up, no one is suggesting we don’t celebrate this beautiful country we live in. Let’s just party on a date where everyone can be involved! It could be:
A rolling date, set on the third Friday in January to guarantee a long weekend every year (very much here for this).
May 8, because: m8.
May 9, the day of the first sitting of Federal Parliament in 1901 and the day that Parliament moved to Canberra in 1927.
May 27, to mark the day in 1967 when Australia held a referendum to include Indigenous Australians in the census. You could say that this was the day we finally came together as Aussies. It also marks the start of Reconciliation Week.
Why we should not change the date.
January 26 does have historical significance. Celebrating on this day is an acknowledgment of the first time Europeans inhabited Australian land: men, women and children. As the majority of the Australian population is non-Indigenous, it speaks to the beginning of this part of Australia’s history. Regardless of the emotional ties, it is, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, ‘The day Australia’s course changed forever.’
Some people also argue that changing the date will not solve the range of issues and barriers that impact the day-to-day lives of Indigenous Australians. Let’s focus on the ways we can dismantle the more urgent challenges, rather than focusing on the date of this one day.
Plus, there are other days that do acknowledge the horrors of colonisation: National Sorry Day on May 26, Reconciliation Week, which starts on May 27, and Mabo Day on June 3.
A reading shortlist for good allies
As a first-generation Australian I firmly believe that to truly understand the issue, we have to listen to First Nations voices of all kinds. Here’s a list to get you started:
1. Nayuka Gorrie, ‘No Matter Which Day the Country Chooses to Host Its Australia Day, I Will Not Be Participating,’ NITV, 24 January 2019.
2. Luke Pearson, ‘Why I No Longer Support #changethedate,’ IndigenousX, January 2019.
4. Jack Latimore, ‘It’s Convenient to Say Aboriginal People Support Australia Day. But It’s Not True,’ Indigenous X published on The Guardian, 22 January 2018.
5. Tony Birch, ‘Tony Birch: A Change of Date Will Do Nothing to Shake Australia From Its Colonial-Settler Triumphalism,’ IndigenousX, 21 January 2018.
Crystal Andrews is a journalist, author and founder of social news platform @zee_feed. You can buy her debut book How to Win Every Argument (from $4.99) here.