A little dog celebrating Australia with beach toys. Isolated on white
A little dog celebrating Australia with beach toys. Isolated on white

Five big issues with Australia Day

And so we say goodbye to another Australia Day. Glorious sunshine on the Gold Coast. Beer and barbecues. Good times.

A great day, so long as you didn't turn on the TV or the radio. Because a part of the annual tradition now is the well-worn, dreary debate about the date. For a nation that has so much to be proud of, we sure know how to talk ourselves down, especially on our national day.

How to break the miserable cycle? This column does not have the answer, but offers these thoughts.


1. It's great to be Australian

Most baffling to this author are the anguished Sydney and Melbourne types who appear ashamed to be Australian. A Guardian column this week opened with the line: "For a long time I have not felt part of Australia, not felt Australian, not wanted to be known as Australian." You can imagine how the article progressed from there.

It is an especially odd thing to write in 2021, given this nation's remarkable success in warding off a pandemic that has consumed the rest of the globe. To this columnist at least, Australia has always looked the ideal place to live, to work, to raise a family. But never more so than now.

Not "wanting to be known" as Australian? The thousands who gain citizenship each year would clearly disagree. As would the millions stuck in lockdowns around the globe who would happily trade places with us.


‘Noto so flash’ - a re-enactment of the arrival of the First Fleet.
‘Noto so flash’ - a re-enactment of the arrival of the First Fleet.



2. Pollies are not helping

Australia Day is meant to be for everybody. But it's been made to look like a celebration of "White Australia". Not just by opponents of the celebrations, but by politicians who take their bait.

What was Prime Minister Scott Morrison thinking when he said last week that January 26, 1788, "wasn't a particularly flash day for the people on those (First Fleet) vessels either."

The comment came while the PM was responding to news that Cricket Australia had decided to stop using the words "Australia Day" in relation to January 26 events.

How disappointing to see the Prime Minister so easily provoked into stirring the pot.




3. Most people don't give two hoots about the date

Outside the culture warriors, few really care what date Australia Day is held on. All most reasonable people want is a national day that can be enjoyed without the associated guilt trip.

With 364 other days in the year to choose from, there is no great reason to be attached to January 26. It's good to know your history and if you do, it's pretty obvious why this particular date would sit uncomfortably with Australians of indigenous descent.

Many alternative dates have been suggested. Just about every day on the calendar must have been proposed by now. But what the hey, here's another one to add to the list: August 29. On that day in 1882 Australia won the first Ashes test match, stunning an England crowd into silence at The Oval. Even Cricket Australia might be able to get on board with that one.


4. We remain blissfully ignorant of Indigenous culture

The Commonwealth Games was a moment that really opened this columnist's eyes. The opening and closing ceremonies were rightly panned. Except for the sections featuring indigenous song and dance. Those parts, far better than the rest, took many of us by surprise. They were foreign to us. We should all wonder why that might be.

I recently attended a talk hosted by Griffith University with Bruce Pascoe. The author of Dark Emu - a brilliant read - has had his aboriginal heritage questioned on many occasions.

In truth, like so many of us, his bloodline is a jumble of backgrounds, only a small fraction of which is indigenous. So what. As a proud Australian, he's embraced what's true to this land.

To question his heritage is to miss the point of his message. Indigenous culture is richer and deeper than many realise. It's something that should be treasured by all Australians.


And another.
And another.



5. The honours system is broken

The honours system looks like an anachronism. So maybe we shouldn't be too surprised that it rewards someone like Margaret Court, who holds dinosaur views.

But really, who could possibly have thought that was a good idea? Kerry O'Brien had the right idea when he rejected the chance to join her on the list.

Another top winner: Malcolm Turnbull. What a joke.

The honours system clearly needs major reform. By needlessly adding to the controversy around Australia Day, it's failing in its purpose.






Originally published as Five big issues with Australia Day