Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Australia Day has never been unifying

  • 18 January 2018


Let's be clear. Australia Day, in its various iterations over the life of the commonwealth, has never been unifying. The earliest form on record was an exclusive dinner party in 1817 attended by 40 people at the postmaster's house, marking the anniversary of the New South Wales colony.

Subsequent affairs were private and 'official', given that the convicts that comprised most of the population at the time 'were not encouraged to celebrate', and probably were not inclined anyway. Hardly an egalitarian background for a national day.

The minor inaccuracies involved in marking 26 January make it even more patchy: the First Fleet had actually arrived on earlier dates; Britain had formally annexed NSW on a different date; and the country as a whole had already been 'appropriated' by James Cook in August 1770. Other states, having been founded on various dates, regarded it as a Sydney thing until 1935.

In 1938 it was declared an Aboriginal Day of Mourning, and has since been called either Invasion or Survival Day. To press the point, the current momentum against Australia Day is not some newfound 'political correctness', not least because it predates the term.

Resistance was paradoxically welded to this nation at the furnace where it was forged. Australia Day excludes Indigenous peoples past and present, and casually erases the incalculable cost that underwrote this country, which they continue to pay.

There is momentum around facing the truth, with a handful of councils dropping citizenship ceremonies on the day and the ritual Triple J Hottest 100 countdown being moved as well. It is apparent that the issue has become permanently mainstream, and can no longer be minimised as solely an Indigenous agenda or something driven by 'the left'.

A growing number of Australians accept that being proud about something that alienates Indigenous peoples is a jerk thing to do. Most people would rather not be jerks. A recent poll found more than half of the respondents don't mind moving the day, and 70 per cent preferred a date not associated with the First Fleet.


"The date is nothing more than forced compliance with colonial narratives, one that not only disrespects First Peoples but compromises those who have come here for a better life."


Something in this harkens to the Uluru Statement, which called on all Australians to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples toward a better version of themselves. It is but the first step.

It is also a