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It's Time To Stray From The Date Of 'Straya Day

I know January 26th is "tradition". But lots of crappy ideas were tradition.

26/01/2017 12:08 PM AEDT | Updated 26/01/2017 12:08 PM AEDT
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I want to celebrate being Australian. Just not today.

If someone could tell me how I should feel above Australia Day, that'd be awesome. I've been so conflicted about it since 1988, when I heard the Bicentennial song 'Celebration of a Nation' changed to 'Celebration of Invasion', and realised it was not just one of those "Jingle bells, Batman smells" adaptations. I was smart like that.

Basically, Australia Day presents a conflict of interests for me. On one hand, I LOVE celebrating this amazing country, most affectionately known as "'Straya". It all started for me when my mother received her citizenship 30 years ago. It was a momentous occasion in our home. Dad had received his years prior, and so it was just a special day for mum -- a very rare thing.

I began to understand how incredible my parents were to start a brand new life in a different country. They had been invited here by the government to help rebuild Darwin after Cyclone Tracy in 1974, but they would have left their politically unstable homeland of Fiji at some point, anyway.

So, I was born in Australia thanks to them, and I've always been grateful for that. I've had an incredible life here, with advantages and opportunities that we wouldn't have had in other countries. I know my parents have loved the life they've worked hard to build here. I've been lucky enough to travel a lot, and see how many other countries work, and I know one thing for sure; bloody oath, 'Straya is the most peaceful, stable, and fair country in the world.

This is why Australia Day means so much to me. I love all the day's traditions: barbies, the cricket, grocery stores stocking pre-made pavlova bases that I can pretend I made... I've even walked in an Australia Day parade. And even though I've been aware of the controversy of the date, I always celebrate the day we are given by the government to celebrate. It's been especially important to me in recent years since my dad died, because on some level, if I didn't, I feel it would be a slap in the face of his courage to come here and give us a better life.

So, from a migrant's perspective, I get it, and I know I'm not alone in feeling this way. There are so many ethnicities that years ago were not represented in the numbers they are now; Australia Day is for them, too. They want to celebrate being Australian -- because we are not celebrating just our nation's rich history, but also our future.

But Canberra -- we have a problem. It's been there for decades, and it's not getting better. It's not about the concept of Australia Day itself, but about the date - January 26th - and what it symbolises.

There are hundreds of thousands of Aussies for whom Australia Day is simply not a celebration. Without a doubt, the colonisation of Australia was the consequence of an invasion. There was violence and murder. The Aboriginal people fought for what was theirs, but they were outnumbered and their weapons were no match. January 26th, 1788, is the day the First Fleet, in Sydney Cove, claimed the land in the name of King George, and this country ceased to be controlled by the people who had lived here for tens of thousands of years.

So it's not simply "history" when the entire point of choosing January 26th as Australia Day was to recognise the date of white settlement -- because it's also the date of Aboriginal dispossession, and the beginning of the end of their life as they knew it.

Okay, so the government has apologised (only nine years ago, but still). It's time to "move on", apparently. But put it this way -- is it time to move on from remembering 102-year-old Gallipoli on ANZAC Day? Of course not! We absolutely need to acknowledge the sacrifice made by our soldiers, and recognise their experience. And that's what we need to do for Aboriginal people; recognise their experience.

But having Australia Day on January 26th ignores that experience. And for that reason, in 2017, the Aboriginal people can't "move on".

Why should they, when their peaceful existence was obliterated and their entire people was marginalised by white settlement and we're all getting pissed and having a day off to mark the occasion? When it took One Hundred and Eighty-OneYears (1788 - 1969) to give them constitutional rights? When there are still thousands of families dealing with the aftermath of the Stolen Generations, which saw children literally stolen from their families by the government? If that happened to your family a couple of generations ago, would you easily "move on"?

One the best lines from the iconic Aussie movie The Castle is "It's the constitution. It's Mabo. It's justice. It's the law. It's the vibe..." The "Mabo" court case is actually a reference to Eddie Mabo, an Aboriginal rights activist who drove the 1992 High Court decision which finally acknowledged that the Aboriginal people owned the land prior to white settlement -- that they had Native Title. 1992 -- just 25 years ago. It's an appalling injustice to the original inhabitants.

I know January 26th is "tradition". But lots of crappy ideas were tradition. Traditionally, women didn't have rights. Traditionally, only heterosexuals were allowed to marry (oh wait, that's still happening --we should do something about that). It's a cliché, but now we know better, we can do better. Are we really going to continue to have a massive national celebration, including a public holiday, on this date for the next 100 years? Is that the kind of country we want to be?

Change is coming, slowly but surely. The hashtag #changethedate has been igniting Twitter debate. The Red Cross is offering employees to work this Thursday and take a day off later in the year. Fremantle council has changed the date of their celebrations to January 28th. There must be some renegade, badass councillors over in the West -- and they have all my respect.

Celebrating Australia Day is an absolute must -- but it shouldn't be on January 26th.

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