Posted on January 20 2018
Another year and another Australia Day.
On Australia Day we recognise the contributions of all Australians. From our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to those who have lived here for generations, and those who have come from across the globe to call Australia home.
Today I want to draw a very clear distinction on four main issues as I see them: the date, the day, the debate and the future.
The 26th of January date commemorates the arrival of the first fleet in 1788. We cannot deny that the many years that followed saw oppression and genocide, where massacres and atrocities were committed against the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities. It took 179 years from the First Landing for our First Nations Peoples to be recognised in an Australian Referendum.
That Date does mark the beginning of Colonisation. 1788 marks a date of Invasion and Survival for our Aboriginal People. But do we really think a mere Date Change will undo over two centuries of significant events and wrong doings?
We cannot change our past, but there are lessons with every historic event that should help us better understand each other as humans.
In all honesty, most of us do not have much in common with Captain Phillip, and I would struggle to think that any of us celebrate the date to mark the beginning of Colonisation.
So, what are we all celebrating on the day?
I want to share with you some Key Statistics as part of the research commissioned by our National Australia Day Council:
- 4 in 5 Australians see the day as being more meaningful than just a day off
- 13 million Australians participate in Australia Day celebrations each year
- 16,000 new Australians become citizens on Australia Day
- 75% of Australians believe the day should be a time to recognise and celebrate the country's cultural diversity
- 54% give thought to how lucky we are to live in Australia
- And currently, almost half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are actively engaged in Australia Day.
What we acknowledge on Australia Day is not Captain Philip or colonisation, we celebrate how far we have come as a nation, how our diversity became our strength, how our past journeys have inspired our present and shaped our future.
We celebrate unity in a divided world, we celebrate our democracy, our freedom of opinion, our power to debate, to agree and disagree and we celebrate a fair go.
But what most of us don’t do on Australia Day, and what we need to consider doing more of, is acknowledge, respect, appreciate, embrace, connect with and cherish our First Nations Peoples and their history.
Australia Day is an opportunity to acknowledge and learn about our nation's past. It's a time to reflect on and learn about our national journey, including the ongoing history, traditions and cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and our own diverse culture.
But the Day doesn’t have to hold the same meaning for all of us, and why should it?
Take a bus one day and you will sit next to someone whose lived here for two generations, one whose family escaped a war zone and gave up everything to come here when they were a child, a member of our indigenous community, another whose family has been here for too many generations to count, a student who moved here for a new life experience and even someone going to their first job interview since fleeing to Australia as a refugee.
We are all free people and we do not think or feel the same, and that is what makes Australia beautiful, as we are a mosaic of broken pieces better for coming together, we each have our own history which influences the way we feel on Australia Day, from a feeling of mourning and loss, to one of freedom.
So, what are we Debating?
If you do or don’t support a change in the Date, the Day itself should never change.
At the Australia Day Council, we are committed to celebrating Australia Day whichever Date it is.
Yes, any date Change will remain a matter for the federal government to consider, but the debate remains one for the community to have. And in this country, the Australian people will always be heard. Our democracy, our freedom of speech and our ability to have this debate in the first place is exactly what we celebrate on Australia Day.
The Australia Day Debate requires broad community education, compassion and sincerity. It should not be used as a political tool. Australia Day isn’t for the right or the left of politics, it is for all Australians to reflect, debate and celebrate.
The Australia Day Council of South Australia is committed to reconciliation and inclusiveness, we welcome debate and discussion about our national identity that will strengthen our resolve as a nation for all of our people.
I am certain at some stage we will become a republic and we will have a new National Day. With that in mind, all we need to think about in the meantime is did we do enough to learn, preserve, respect and appreciate our history in full. Or did we just miss that opportunity?
Reconciliation doesn’t start by changing history, it starts with empathy and education. Other countries that have embraced their history have elected to educate their children about the past. We go to lengths in protecting a heritage building that is less than 50 years old, but we fall short in preserving the living culture of our First Nations Peoples that transcends our existence by well over 65,000 years.
In differing groups trying to hijack the debate on the Date, let us not lose the true meaning of Australia Day in the process. This is a very important conversation for our nation, and not only because of its relevance to our Aboriginal people and others, but because it will shape our future for generations to come.
The Australia Day Council of South Australia, will continue to aspire to an Australia Day that increasingly includes appropriate recognition of the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the traditional custodians of our beautiful lands and waterways, and their centrality to the great Australian story.
And on this Australia Day we will commence our morning acknowledging our First Nations Peoples with a smoking ceremony at Elder Park. This enables all of us to reflect on the past, acknowledge our common history and recognise the date that has had a lasting impact on our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. During the day we will welcome our new Australians at the many citizenship ceremonies held around the country, and we end the day proudly celebrating, as one, what we have become as a Nation.
So let us on this Australia Day reflect on the many events that have shaped our history, as we debate and celebrate our present and aspire to a better future. And as we look forward, we must all unite for the betterment of all Australians.
Houssam Abiad, Chairperson of the Australia Day Council of South Australia