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Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Australia Day 2023


Dr Tristan Ewins

Around about this time of year the nation usually pursues a debate on Australia Day.  What is the Australian identity?  What do we have to celebate?  Is there anything we should regret or mourn?  Is January 26th really the best date for our national day, or should we reject the idea that Australia’s history only began with colonisation?  After all, January 26th is the date that the First Fleet arrived in 1788, but indigenous history goes back for some tens of thousands of years.  As such debate on Australia Day also spurs discussion around the formation of an Australian Republic ; on the flag ; on a Treaty and the need for a Voice to Parliament ; and the reality of modern multicultural Australia.

That said, there are things to celebrate in our history which we can construct a national identity around.  Australia played an important role in the defeat of Fascism in World War Two.  The egalitarian spirit of mateship helped the men to persevere during the conflict and sometimes as POWs in Changi and the Thai-Burma railway. The question of the flag is complicated by the fact tens of thousands died fighting under that flag to defeat fascism.  And there are aspects of our working class historical culture which resonate with egalitarianism ; though the Conservatives have worked to minimise the significance of this in our National Identity.

By shifting our national day to the date of Federation we would at least avoid the notion that history began with colonisation.  Though there needs to be simultaneous recognition that indigenous history goes back some tens of thousands of years before that.   Since January 1st is already a public holiday an additional public holiday would need to be established.  Perhaps this could even be rethemed as ‘reconciliation day’ where we strive to grasp our past and heal for the future.  Such a day could provide focus for discussion on a Treaty ; and once a Treaty is achieved could provide an opportunity to commemorate that achievement.  And to focus on whatever work remains to be done. If a Treaty were established ‘reconciliation day’ could become an annual event.

Australia Day is a time to contest ‘what it means to be Australian’.  The Left has a mission to embed progressive values in our ‘national psyche’. Today is a good day to pursue that mission.   To discuss the Republic and perhaps the flag.  And to pursue far-reaching reconciliation.

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