In recent weeks we have been treated to yet another #changethedate campaign based on how terrible it is to celebrate Australia Day on the day of the arrival of the First Fleet, the day Australia was invaded by the British.
However, let’s be clear: this is not really about changing the date. That’s why there are no serious alternative dates proposed by opponents to January 26.
And it’s not just because there are no other viable days for a national celebration: federation happened on January 1, but that’s already a public holiday and — as it celebrates the political union between the colonies — it has the same problems as Australia Day.
Other foundational events are equally problematic: ANZAC day too is already a public holiday and not without its own controversy. The Eureka stockade was built and manned by miners, whose compatriots led decades of racist opposition to Chinese immigrants. Nor are significant milestones in Indigenous affairs less political (or more inclusive to broader society) than Australia Day.
Nor will picking a different day to celebrate solve the activists’ real problem: the foundation of Australia is inextricably linked with the dispossession of Indigenous Australians.
The objection is to celebrating the foundation of Australia (or for some even modern Australia) at all.
While there are some who compare Indigenous living standards today with those prior to the first fleet landing and argue that Indigenous Australians too are better off, this is beside the point. We cannot know what Australia might have looked like had settlers treated with Indigenous people as equals and partners.
Moreover, ahistorical counterfactuals are irrelevant: invasion and colonisation occurred here and elsewhere. Indigenous people have a right to reflect on the dispossession, racism and violence that occurred as a result of settlement.
Nevertheless, Australia has grown into something great and special — which is why the thousands of people who seek Australian citizenship today desperately do want to be here.
There are some who want Australians to feel shame and guilt: for colonisation, for our refugee policy, for our failure to pay ‘our fair share’ of taxes and ultimately because we are the fortunate ones. They think pride in Australia is for bogans and nationalists. They are wrong.
Australia is not perfect. Yet Australians can feel proud of our country and its people, how far we’ve come, and what we’ve achieved, in spite of those who seek to shame us. An overwhelming majority of people believe the existence of Australia is something worth celebrating.
It is ok to celebrate the good as long as we don’t bury the bad.