Monday, 27 January 2014

Australia Day or Invasion Day? Just change the day, and the flag too

Yesterday was Australia Day, also known as "Invasion Day" and "Survival Day". Here's a basic FAQ - from an outsider's perspective - on why it's controversial and why it should be moved.

What is Australia Day?

It's Australia's national day, celebrated on 26th January, marking the date the British sailed into Sydney Cove in 1788 and claimed New South Wales for Britain.

What happens on Australia Day?

Parades, fireworks, civic awards, festivals, barbecues, and LOTS of flags.

Young people dress up in Australian flags, novelty hats and glasses, temporary tattoos and thongs (flip flops), and often get drunk on the streets. A minority of racists use it as an excuse to incite hatred and violence.

What's "Invasion Day"? Or "Survival Day"?

Obviously, Indigenous Australians don't feel great about the day the British arrived and started systematically destroying them and their culture. "Invasion" and "Survival" describe the Aboriginal experience of Australia's colonisation.

But it could be a good day to celebrate, the meeting of Europeans & Aborigines?

Any reason to celebrate the meeting of white explorers and brown indigenous peoples has been squandered by 200 years of genocide and oppression. Kind of a shame really.

Wasn't colonialism was a long time ago?

It wasn't very long in the past for Australia, with Aborigines only becoming citizens between 1949 and 1965. The effects of aggressive violent colonialism on Indigenous Australians - worse health, employment, education, standards of living, even a sheer lack of people (3% of population) - are still obvious to see today.

Didn't the government say sorry?

It was great to see the Australian government finally apologise for the wrongs of colonialism, but it was largely symbolic. You can't fix 200 years of colonialism overnight.

[Edit: Rudd's apology was actually only for the government's involvement in the Stolen Generations. Indigenous Australians are still waiting for anything symbolic or practical regarding the theft and horror of colonialism.]

But every country needs a national day.

Yes, agreed. I'm no fan of nationalism or flag-waving, but most people like their country, and most people enjoy having a national day, where everyone in that country gets to celebrate.

Australia should have a national day, for all Australians - whether European, Aboriginal, or immigrant.

For many, it is about multicultural, modern Australia...

Despite Australia Day's trashy reputation of alcohol, flags and violence, for many people it is truly about celebrating the good things of this bold country: opportunity, prosperity and diversity.

And despite the ongoing witch-hunt against boat people, most Aussies are happy to count the varied immigrants who choose to make Australia home - and who choose to be Australian - as fellow Australians and an asset to the country.

...even if the parades are a bit creepy...

Like all parades, the Australia Day parade in Melbourne central seemed a little desperate: an insecure, flag-drenched attempt to remind everyone how multicultural Australia is, it's okay, it's okay, we're all Australians.
The parade was led by the
Armed Forces, naturally. Um...

But it was nice to see almost every ethnic group from Victoria's past and present was represented, including associations for the Danish, Vietnamese, Macedonians, Filipinos, even the Karen people from Thailand/Burma. Almost every ethnic group ... except Indigenous Australians.

It's hardly surprising though. If you were Aboriginal, would you be part of a parade on this day?

So, move the day

There really is one reason Australia Day cannot be that uniting day for all Australians, and that's because of the date. 26th January represents the first day the British arrived in Australia and took it.

Even if Australia gets over its issues with immigrants, racism and boat people, it's hard to see Indigenous Australians ever accepting 26th January as a way to celebrate being Australian.

Which day to move it to? Well, as the Rap News video above suggests: there are alternative dates, but any day would be less offensive than the current day.

And why not change the flag as well

Sam Neill, famous Australian.
The current Australian flag sums up the situation perfectly: a history of British colonialism, with no mention or appreciation of the societies and cultures who were here long before Europeans arrived.

Changing the Australian flag has been a topic for a while. The 1997 sci-fi film Event Horizon, set in the year 2047, included a credible future Australian flag: the Aboriginal flag replacing the British Union flag in the corner.
But flying above the Melbourne museum right now is an even better one: John Warwicker's design for the Flags for Melbourne art project.

It's not just a beautiful artistic design. This is a genuinely worthy flag for Australia.

Changing Australia Day to a different day, and making this the Australian Flag, would do miracles for Australia's reputation, racial relations and future.