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Changing Australia Day

By Andrew Bartlett - posted Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Australian of the Year, Aboriginal academic and activist, Professor Mick Dodson, has made the rather unremarkable point that many Indigenous Australians don’t feel overly positive about using January 26 to celebrate Australia Day.

Prof Dodson said “Many of our people call it invasion day but I think Australia is mature enough now to have the conversation about that. And let’s get on with it.”

Kevin Rudd agreed that “it is natural and right from time to time, that there will be conversations about such important symbols for our nation”.


To show how interested he was in paying attention to that conversation, Mr Rudd indicated he would not support the idea, regardless of what everyone else said.

“Let me say a simple, respectful, but straightforward no,” he said.

Mr Rudd’s response not only ignores any national conversation which does occur, but also dismisses the Roadmap for Reconciliation, the actioning of which was one of only six recommendations from the final report of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in 2000. Adopting these recommendations is part of the Labor Party’s official platform.

Meanwhile, many readers on the Daily Telegraph’s website did their best to show that Prof Dodson was wrong in believing that Australia is now mature enough to have a conversation on the topic, unleashing the a volley of vitriol and abuse not overly different to what has been thrown at Indigenous Australians in this country for the last couple of centuries.

Calls to change Australia Day are manna from heaven for right-wing radio shock jocks and history warriors, so it’s no surprise Kevin Rudd wants to shut down debate on it straight away and get us all back to pondering how bad the economy is.

But it is not only Indigenous Australians who feel that January 26 is not the best day to celebrate our unity as a nation. Many of the millions of Australians who are not of British heritage are also likely to find another day more meaningful. Plenty of other people who, like me, have some British ancestry, also feel the same.


All of my ancestors arrived in the Australian colonies at various times throughout the 19th century. But I still don’t believe the anniversary of the establishment of the British colony of New South Wales should be used to celebrate Australia’s nationhood.

It is not just that this date marks the start of a dispossession, displacement and killing of Aboriginal Australians far more brutal than our nation is still able to admit or acknowledge.

I also don’t see why a nation which has become independent from the country which colonised them would celebrate their national day on the anniversary of colonisation. Most other nations with this sort of history celebrate on the date of independence, not the day of colonisation.

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First published on Crikey's blog page on January 26, 2009.

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About the Author

Andrew Bartlett has been active in politics for over 20 years, including as a Queensland Senator from 1997-2008. He graduated from University of Queensland with a degree in social work and has been involved in a wide range of community organisations and issues, including human rights, housing, immigration, Indigneous affairs, environment, animal rights and multiculturalism. He is a member of National Forum. He blogs at Bartlett's Blog.

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