Why we shouldn’t change the date

25 January 2018

Why we shouldn’t change the date

Image credit: DO’Neil (Wikimedia) – CC BY-SA 3.0

Australia Day used to be a day off from work, filled with beach, barbeques, fireworks, flag-wearing and other festivities. For decades now there have been protests from the indigenous community against this celebration, declaring it either a Day of Mourning or Invasion Day.

Are the indigenous groups accurate in their assessment of what Australia Day stands for? Is it a day of mourning?

Well certainly the history of European settlement can detail, among other things, dispossession of the land from indigenous people, as well as their rape and murder. That alone gives them something to mourn.

Was the 26th of January 1788 a day of invasion? The First Fleet first anchored in Botany Bay a week earlier, however upon moving the fleet to Sydney Cove, the 26th was the day that the British flag was raised and the land settled as a British penal colony. There was no consultation with the natives, no treaty was signed.

When present-day Australians hear the term Invasion Day thrown at them by activists both black and white, the natural reaction is offence and rebuke. It wasn’t our fault that our founding fathers acted in that manner.

It is unlikely that the indigenous could have continued to enjoy their land unimpeded into the 19th century. The Dutch had been exploring the region from the early 17th century, and made the first documented landing in Australia in 1606.

What was probably Cape York was also sighted by the Spanish in the same year. The French, who colonised several islands and territories throughout the world, were just days behind the First Fleet in 1788.

Settlement of Australia by a nation other than the indigenous was inevitable. The expansion of the British Empire into India, the Americas, and Australia are all similar, and tragic tales of dispossession, disease, and death of the indigenous populations.

In 21st century Australia it’s not only indigenous activists that continue the battle against the celebration of Australia Day. Many have taken it upon themselves to feel offended on behalf of the indigenous, promoting “change the date” by flying the indigenous flag on their homes, and signing petitions. Do they honestly care about “Invasion Day”? Or now that the Same-Sex Marriage debate has been settled, is it just the latest trend to be seen to be included in?

There may well be an argument for recognising Australia Day on another date, but we cannot let this push be taken too far. Let’s, for argument’s sake, give them a win and declare in law that the 26th of January was an invasion. I don’t think that anyone, indigenous or otherwise, will dispute that the invasion was successful, and the indigenous were conquered. Nor in 2018, after decades of struggle, should either party dispute that that the indigenous enjoy equal rights under the law of any state or the Commonwealth.

With the aforementioned in mind, under international law ratified by the United Nations General Assembly, 21st century Australia cannot have two separate populations of conqueror and conquered. Given that, the descendants of 18th century indigenous Australians are therefore a unified people with the rest of Australians, and as such, it means that no further claim to separate land rights can be made.

Apologies to the learned justices of the High Court, but that Mabo decision based upon European settlement rather than European invasion will now need to be reversed. Is this really the result that the “Invasion Day” protestors are pushing for? Be careful what you wish for.

Our proud nation’s history is chequered with shame, which cannot be erased by simply changing the date. Creating a better future may bring a better reason, and date, to hold a national celebration.