Every year, the calls to shift Australia Day – ‘change the date’ – multiply, to purge it of the racist, colonial baggage of ‘Invasion Day’
The best option is 1 January, but that poses another challenge. Imagine the girding of the collective national loins as we brace to see in the New Year then celebrate ‘Australia’ with a BBQ lunch and another piss-up the next day. Some old acquaintance may be forgot …
But it makes sense. January 26 marks the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 to establish a British penal colony. It has nothing to do with the idea of ‘Australia’, which – even as a concept – didn’t exist then. January 1 is the date in 1901 when we became a Commonwealth of Federated States. It marks the moment Australia came into official existence.
It’s the closest we get to an independence day, though we can’t call it that. Some countries, such as the US and India, fought the British and achieved full independence; others, such as Australia and Canada, did not fight and were granted quasi-independence.
When Britain entered both world wars, Australia was automatically at war, too – astonishing! We didn’t get our own currency until 1966. When I studied Law in the 1980s, the highest appeal court in the ‘Australian’ legal system was the Privy Council in England. The Queen is still our head of State, our coins still bear her seal. Our flag still flies the Union Jack.
Australia is not a sovereign nation – but we can find our way to a new and better day.