January 26. Australia Day. A day where we can all take a day off, have a beer, listen to a hipster music countdown, and argue about Australia Day. Oh, and celebrate just how lucky we are to reside in this great country.
For yes, we may be a small country, but we’re a great one, too. The country of
Shakespeare Andrew Bolt, Churchill the Prime Minister that skolls beer at the cricket, the Beatles beetles that will probably kill you, Sean Connery every Hemsworth ever created, Harry Potter Wizard Home Loans. David Beckham’s Timmy Cahill’s right foot. David Beckham’s Timmy Cahill’s left foot, come to that. And why shouldn’t all Australians take a day off to come together and celebrate all that?
Well, of course we should. And we do. On January 26 – the day that our great nation was founded. For it was on January 26 that Captain Arthur Phillip sailed into Sydney Harbour and claimed Australia for Great Britain by the time-honoured law-of-the-bags. The anniversary of our nation seems like a great choice for a day we can all celebrate being Australian, right?
January 26 is certainly the day that the British started making themselves at home… the only problem is that they apparently didn’t much care for the fact that it was already someone’s home. Initial signs suggested that this wouldn’t be a problem, since “the official policy of the British Government was to establish friendly relations with Aboriginal people, and Arthur Phillip ordered that the Aboriginal people should be well treated”. Meanwhile, the local Indigenous people looked upon a bunch of British criminals grabbing prime harbour real estate, and initially merely “seemed curious but suspicious of the newcomers”. Despite all that, I think we can all agree that things went a little pear-shaped from there. So it would seem that perhaps January 26 isn’t for everyone. Especially when you throw in the fact that apparently only about 20% of us are descended from the First Fleet.
But what other days could you choose?
Well, while January 26 is the day that Arthur planted his flag, he actually arrived about a week earlier. The first ship of the First Fleet, Supply, arrived in Botany Bay on January 18, with the rest of the ships arriving by January 20. Arthur soon realised that the landing location, now known as La Perouse, wasn’t suitable for a new colony, what with all the jet-skis and lowered Commodores. So he said “Stuff this, by Jove”, and sailed a little north, where he cruised past the cultured hills of the Eastern Suburbs and into Sydney Cove. He soon picked the site as a great location for opera, although his dream was not realised until Jørn Utzon came along many weeks later. So yeah, January 26 could more accurately be thought of as the one week anniversary of a fairly dubious real estate decision. Add that to current Sydney house prices, and maybe January 18 makes more sense.
Of course, there are other days that might be suitable that are completely unrelated to the founding of our nation. As this article notes, there are many other days that would do just as well:
- February 13 (the apology to the Stolen Generation)
- April 11 (White Australia Policy was scrapped)
- May 27 (Aboriginal people granted full constitutional rights)
- December 1 (first day of the glorious Australian Summer)
My personal favourite is a proposal by Jordan Raskopoulos, who suggests that perhaps May 8 would be good. May 8? M8? Maaaaaaate!
Now I know what some of you are thinking. Depending on your political leanings, some of you are reading this and thinking, “Yeah! Up yours you January 26!”. Others are thinking “Yeah! Up yours you bleeding heart liberals!”. But you know what the best part of all this is? It actually doesn’t bloody matter. Arguing about what date it should be is pointless. January 1, April 11, May 8, September 33… who cares? Because, whatever your political leanings, there’s only one question you need to ask yourself.
When it comes to moving Australia Day, who does it hurt more?
On the one hand, we have Indigenous Australians, for whom January 26 marks the descent into genocide, loss of land, cultural destruction, stolen generations, disproportionate incarceration and shameful life expectancy. For these Australians, January 26 doesn’t commemorate the beginning, it commemorates the beginning of the end.
On the other hand, there’s the rest of us, who pretty much just want another day off, so they can go the beach and have a barbie. I mean, let’s face it – no one really feels any affinity to the day Arthur Phillip landed in Sydney (after deciding Botany Bay was cräp), do they? We might be mildly annoyed at the change of date, but do we really, truly care? Or do we just need a day – any day – where all of us, no matter where we’ve come from, can get together and appreciate how lucky we are?
The fact is that it’s a pretty big deal to Indigenous Australians that we celebrate the day they lost their lands. It’s much less of a big deal for us to move it.
So why don’t we?