Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

What a good Australia Day might look like



There is really not much to say about Australia Day. Few people know exactly what it commemorates. Fewer would mind if it were moved, say, to a less holiday-rich time of the year; no one takes it seriously as an event, but everyone enjoys a day off work. And anyone who follows politics in January grows tired of politicians trying to reap electoral hay from the day with their pontificators and binders.

Aboriginal man playing didgeridooSo rather than talk about the Australia Day that we have, let us reflect on what a good and engaging Australia Day might look like. In the first place, it would be a celebration, politician-free and corporation-free. Lots of local events, parades, barbies, parties, beach cricket, boules and volley ball games, exhibitions, skits, gigs, festivals and good conversations. None of them would bear a sponsor's name or badge; all would open with an acknowledgment of the traditional owners of land.

A good Australia Day would also be inclusive, encouraging each national community of origin, religious, political, and social group to open to others the gift of heritage that they make to Australia. The streets would be lined with stalls offering pie floaters, pasta, hallal and kosher meats, empanadas, fish chowder, boko-boko, rice, chicken korma, falafel wraps, noodles, pupusas, roti, risotto, kimchi, octopus curry, pork pies, bat soup and vegemite sandwiches.

And for sweets, of course pavlovas would be at hand with croissants, baklava, gelato, Anzac biscuits, banana sticky rice, Turkish delight and crostoli. And barristas would rove up and down the streets boasting beans borne from such fabled sources as Lilliput Valley and Brobdingnag Bluffs.

The sound of the didgeridoo would be heard throughout the land. On each street corners buskers would mark out their patch, playing violins, oud, piano accordion, berimbau, ukelele, cláirseach, nyatiti, cello, mouth organ, zither, anklung, daduk, grand piano or recorder singing the love songs and epic poems from the many civilisations that have enriched Australia.

Citizenship ceremonies would be held in municipal parks, attracting new citizens, families and well wishers. On participants' heads will be seen top hats, akoubras, hijab, baseball caps, turbans, yamakas, dreadlocks and shaved pates.

They would come dressed in suits and ties, kimonos, saris, beads and shawls, board shorts and t-shirts, knickerbockers, gakti, and crinolines. On those whose feet were shod would be lace-up shoes, clogs, boots, sandals, mukluk, runners, Ugg boots, slippers and thongs. During the ceremonies, in return for the gift that they and their heritage bring to Australia, the new citizens would receive an Australian shrub to plant and nurture.


"It would highlight the catastrophic effects on the first Australians of colonial invasion through imported illnesses, war and dispossession, and the struggles of their descendants for recognition and justice."


Australia Day would also allow people to hear of the events and people who made Australia, especially the stories of the people who have lent their names to local streets and towns, and the back stories of all the national groups who have made and sought a home in Australia.

It would highlight the catastrophic effects on the first Australians of colonial invasion through imported illnesses, war and dispossession, and the struggles of their descendants for recognition and justice. It would tell of the place of religious faith, ethnic background and of inherited wealth both in connecting and dividing people. It would honour the courage of people forced from their homes by war and poverty, who built a new life in Australia and contributed to Australian prosperity. It would include both the welcome they found in Australia and the prejudice and exclusion that they experienced at the hands of earlier arrivals and of governments. The telling of Australian history would be set within world history.

The day would also focus on great Australians — great in their humanity, their diversity, and in the gift they have been to the nation. They might include such groups as the Afghan camel drivers and Chinese market gardeners, and such individuals as William Barak, Mary Mackillop, Matthew Flinders, Weary Dunlop, Mary Gilmore, Mum Shirl and John Curtin.

Finally, of course, a good Australia Day would also need to find a place in the calendar suitable for bringing people together in celebration. Clearly the anniversary of European settlement and the beginnings of dispossession of the First Australians would not do. Its selection for Australia Day would be as partisan as it would be for a future united Ireland to tie its national day to the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne or of the Easter Uprising.

Perhaps the most appropriate date would be one on which nothing much had ever happened. The great good fortune of Australia since the initial invasion is to have been spared the wars, famines, civil strife and persecutions that have shaped the national days of other lands. A quiet day marked only by domestic histories would be suitable for exuberant celebration and honest reflection.



Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Australia Day, Invasion Day



submit a comment

Existing comments

"There is really not much to say about Australia Day". From your guide to a suitable commemoration, Andy, there is a great deal for us to be reflective, and joyous, about. We are a young country still finding our own distinctive way and that way must include acknowledging our past and having the courage and tenacity to say "we've got lots going for us" so we can be inclusive and look towards a better way. And change that date. I'm happy to select another date from a hat turned upside down.

Pam | 23 January 2019  

What a splendid image of the Australia Day we ought to have. Its a multi-cultural day therefore as described, multicultural festivals around Australia should happen on the day. The date of Australia Day and the flag is a contentious issue for some and to build a cohesive society will require a rethink of these. We don't need to be a republic or remove reference to British origins but embrace the vast diversity this nation has to offer.

Nat Bokook | 24 January 2019  

Oi, Andy - what about the lamb?!

John | 24 January 2019  

Amen and amen . I would like to see this article printed on the front or middle pages of all the major print media as well as put on Facebook. Then send it to all politicians. We need unity rather than division; joy rather than sorrow, celebration rather than denial.

Winsome Thomas | 24 January 2019  

A very fine vision Andrew. Thank you! I was lamenting with a friend the other night the loss of the very low-key, but much more meaningful, holiday we once had. The Australia Day Weekend (it rarely fell on the 26th, just close to it) was an opportunity for our parents to have a day off before school started again. Our family could have a weekend away, a home barbecue, or head to a beach where the only flags were red and yellow. The evening news just might feature a small commemoration with an Arthur Phillip stand-in rowing his launch into Farm Cove. That was it. Then the 80s came along, Bicentenary marketing, corporations and politics. It's grown worse ever since, and now we have bizarre notions that "celebrating our freedoms" be made compulsory! It's fine to commemorate, always remembering that commemoration includes both celebrating and lamenting, and that the simplest ceremonies actually mean the most. Acknowledging the legacy of all pasts is the best foundation to build a future.

Kevin Wilson | 24 January 2019  

Dear inspiring Andrew.So many beautiful thoughts so eloquently written. Your words embody the kind of leadership our country needs. .Thankyou.

Celia | 24 January 2019  

Good on you, Andrew. Sadly nothing will formally come of your adventurous suggestions but your exceptional string of ideas will hopefully give your many readers a platform of enlightenment from which to carry on our 'must have' Australian conversation about making the best of where we have come from, what we have done and how we might be our creative best in filling this great South land with a didgeridoo full of fulfilled human beings.

Paul Goodland | 24 January 2019  

The first “Australia Day” was actually held on July 30 1915. It was a national event to raise funds to support wounded troops at Gallipoli. Some real ‘fair dinkum’ Aussie history here! The idea came from a Mum of four servicemen. Communities all over Australia organised fundraising events for the newly announced Australia Day. Can’t get more Australian than ‘having a go.’ True Aussie Spirit! Sure beats some English guys with a bunch of convicts raising a flag to establish a colony for Britain in Sydney Cove. Hard to see the ‘Aussie connection’ here really. The people decided the day was July 30 before the government stole the name for Jan 26. I think the RSL would be appalled at this theft of our real history and the injustice to the people of 1915. Then we can all get on with the discussion as to ‘what it means to be “Australian” in the 21st Century’.

Craig RICKARD | 24 January 2019  

Here in Perth for those close enough and looking out and up there will be half an hour, no less, of fireworks! I'm reminded of the anthropologist (Strehlow, Berndt?) who said that the first occupiers and 'owners' of this land were attracted by the lights over the hill introduced by those who came in 1788 and by those who followed. I'll have a quiet day, maybe find one or two others and in their company seek the assurance of "where two or three gather" as we ponder the day and its potential.

Noel McMaster | 24 January 2019  

If only! But we can dream and hope the youth of our country will make more enlightened politicians than the present lot, so that in the future, such a change both and can and will happen.

Marie Cradock | 24 January 2019  

I love it! I would celebrate that Australia Day. And I reckon late February. Nothing much happens in Feb and it is likely to be still warm enough for a swim, but not 40 degree hot.

Anne Rawson | 24 January 2019  

Nice article and some good suggestions. Current date spoiled by too much politicking from right and left. This balanced view of the triumphs and sadnesses and indeed tragedies inherent in our great country need to be celebrated in a low key way, just as you suggest, and we are good at doing that. I would go for the Monday before Ash Wednesday each year; good weather, but a boring part of the year, before footie and after cricket, and could be a great family event, a bit like American Thanksgiving Day just before Advent.

Eugene | 24 January 2019  

An excellent article. Regarding the 26th January, we are commemorating the arrival of the first UMA (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals). It would be so good if we as a Nation acknowledged this fact as well as the devastation suffered by so many original inhabitants of this land, whose stories still need to be heard by all of us. Then too it would be good if we could hear the stories of UMA and the contributions they are making to society. A good day to welcome into our society UMA being held in detention today!

Maureen Elliott | 25 January 2019  

The Australia Day you describe Fr Andrew would be complete when a treaty was proclaimed with the Aboriginal people and a new flag celebrated the event. The current flag reflects British colonisation and domination, the Federation of States and Territories and our geographical position on the globe. A new flag with the Aboriginal flag superimposed on top of the Union Jack, visible only as a margin behind the Aboriginal flag ( to retain yet relegate the historical relevance of the Jack to a position overshadowed by the flag of the original inhabitants of the land) while retaining the Federation Star and Southern Cross is what I would like to see.

john frawley | 25 January 2019  

A wonderfully generous and availing article, Andy, only surpassed, if that's the word, by Maureen Elliott's spectacular suggestion!

Michael Furtado | 25 January 2019  

Australia is one of the world’s few constitutional monarchies, an aesthetic faced every day with the struggle to maintain a delicate balance between a Crown, nominally the sole owner of the country (like the God of its culture which it represents) but, in practice, an owner who daily practises self-restraint in the face of the consciences and free wills of its subjects (like the God which it represents), a People who, like people everywhere, is a robust mob of conflicting emotions and interests who, as People, cannot govern themselves because one human in received culture is as good as another, and many Parliaments, temporary sources of coercion which, between elections, are given the right by the Crown and People to tell the Crown and the People what is good for them even though, as narrow cross-sections of the People (or perhaps not even cross-sections but some individuals more ambitious and cunning than most who know how to get to the levers of state power) they lack that godly omniscience to know what the Crown and People need. Nevertheless, the struggling aesthetic by (mainly British) trial and error has delivered us a trillion dollar economy in a cradle of political peace and stability, which is the flame that attracts the new arrivals, authorised or not. Without a vision the people perish. The vision began britannically and experimentally with Magna Carta on June 15, still warm enough in southern Australia to hold a citizenship ceremony in a park while recollecting that vision. Celebrating ourselves is idolatry. Celebrate the ideas ( received, receiving and still inchoate) that make us ourselves.

roy chen yee | 26 January 2019  

Nice post, Le Roy! ;)

Michael Furtado | 26 January 2019  


Jennifer Raper | 26 January 2019  

I think Kevin Wilson's low key approach is a good one. There is already too much politicking about Australia Day, flags and anthems. Australia, to me, is really about being able to live in one of the best countries on earth in peace and freedom. Australia now, like the United States before it, is very much a melting pot and what is going into the pot is constantly changing. There are still small ethnic groups in the USA, as in Australia, who celebrate their own heritage without denigrating that of others, as well as being part of the mainstream, such as Rusyns in the USA or Melkite Catholics in Australia. That's the way it should be. In a comment on another article, Michael Furtado wrote about a 93 year old Anglo-Indian lady, who obviously grew up during the Raj and who had what most of us would regard as antiquated ideas. She was someone frozen in time. Most of us, of whatever background, are not like that. One of my great interests is religion in all its varieties. You can see that in its glorious variety here. Over the centuries religion is what has made sense to the vast majority of people everywhere. One of the hopes I have for a future Australia is that it becomes a place where all religions can coexist happily and at peace. What an example to the world that would be!

Edward Fido | 28 January 2019  

Similar Articles

White defensiveness in Morrison's Cook gaffe

  • Rachel Woodlock
  • 24 January 2019

What do Indigenous and Muslim Australians have in common? They are the foil against which normative White Australian identity is contrasted. The latest group to join them are African migrants, subject of a new campaign of fear. Because the stories we tell ourselves can change, one day there might be one that honours all of us.


This Invasion Day, march for the future

  • Celeste Liddle
  • 22 January 2019

This Invasion Day, instead of calling on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to conform to simplistic solutions such as changing the date of a public holiday geared around reinforcing jingoism and nationalism, walk alongside us and commit to doing better.