There is currently a debate in Australia about holding Australia Day on 26 January, the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet – the first shipment of colonists and convicts from Great Britain, who founded the colony of New South Wales in 1788 – and whether Australia Day should be moved to another date.
Australia Day is supposed to be a day on which all Australians celebrate as a national community. However, 26 January marks the day the British began colonising an already inhabited land, and not all descendants of those indigenous people feel 26 January is a day to celebrate.
Although a recent poll found many Australians would not mind if the date changed,1 the defence of keeping the date as 26 January is led by the Murdoch media and its allies – most notably conservative politicians like former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
On 23 January 2018, Abbott made this statement regarding Australia Day:
I would argue that what happened on the January 26, 1788 was on balance for everyone, Aboriginal people included, a good thing because it brought Western civilisation to this country, it brought Australia into the modern world.
Australia was not brought into the modern world; European settlers from the other side of the globe forcefully and violently brought the modern world to Australia. Western civilisation, at that time based on a settler-colonial system which exploited indigenous populations in India, the Americas, Africa, and Asia, was forced onto the Aboriginal people, and where they resisted they were displaced or killed.
That Abbott and many in the media can dismiss those facts and their ramifications, and see the arrival of the British as ‘a good thing’ even for Aboriginals, surely displays their worldview, one predicated on the superiority, righteousness and infallibility of Western (and especially British) civilisation.
If Martians stole the Earth, imposed their law, banned our culture, called us miserable wretches and killed nearly every one of us, would we doubt they were invaders or celebrate the day they arrived? 2
- Stephanie Borys, Australia Day: Most Australians don’t mind what date it’s held, according to new poll, 18 Jan 2018, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-18/australia-day-debate-more-than-half-dont-mind-changing-the-date/9337500 ↩
- Simon Bevilacqua, Opinion: An uncomfortable truth, 19 January 2018, http://www.themercury.com.au/news/opinion/opinion-an-uncomfortable-truth/news-story/15400efccce781094ee19a103616deb0 ↩