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Why Wattle Day should be our national day

  • 23 January 2011

I am one of many Australians who cannot commemorate Australia Day on 26 January because I find it impossible to celebrate national unity on a day that divides the nation between the Indigenous survivors of invasion and those who inherited the spoils of their dispossession.

The antipathy of the Indigenous peoples of Australia to this day as a day of celebration is deeply entrenched. In the past, they have marked 26 January as an occasion to publicise their grievances against the dominant society.

In 1938, Aboriginal people commemorated the sesquicentenary as a Day of Mourning and Protest organised by the Aborigines Progressive Association. In a manifesto entitled 'Aborigines Claim Citizenship Rights', they asserted that 150 years of so-called progress for non-Aboriginal Australians was for them a century and a half of misery and degradation.

In 1972, Aboriginal land rights activists set up the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawn of Parliament House in Canberra on Australia Day in response to the refusal of the McMahon Coalition Government to consider their demand for land rights. This was a highly original protest and the notion of 'embassy' implied the alien status of Indigenous peoples in their own land.

In 2011, Australia is a far different nation to what it was then and Indigenous protest movements have played their part in building a better society.

When I ponder on being Australian, I think of the natural beauty of Australia and the Indigenous peoples whose cultures adorn the island continent. We are a diverse people in a diverse land and these are aspects of our identity we can celebrate as a nation.

I think too of the Mabo decision of High Court of Australia in 1992 that has led to major reform especially in recent times as state and federal governments have shown they are prepared to work with Indigenous peoples to resolve native title issues through mediation.

Considering these important events, I believe we should choose a day other than the day the First Fleet landed at Port Jackson to celebrate Australia Day. I suggest Wattle Day, the first day of September is an ideal day for this purpose.

The Australian floral emblem is acacia pyenantha — Golden Wattle.

Wattle as a symbol offers something to Indigenous peoples because it is