Australia Day 2020 – Change the Date

Australia Day 2020 is fast approaching. It is the year 2020 and we are a different world, different people, with different values. In the past decade we have embraced many voices, moving from the disregarded and marginalised, to the empowered and the authoritative. From the #MeToo movement, to #HollywoodIsSoWhite, we are embracing all cultures, all genders and giving power to the minorities. In Australia however, on a national level, we tell a very different story. 

Why are we still celebrating and acknowledging Australia Day in 2020, when we understand so vividly what that day means, what that history means and the devastation, pain and trauma, this day still symbolises for Indigenous Australia. It’s 2020 – #ChangeTheDate

Although Australia Day (Survival Day) has only been officially nationally celebrated as a public holiday since 1994, protesting on 26 January is not new for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Protests about celebrating this date go back to the 1800’s.                                                                                                      

  • In 1838, 100 Aboriginal people gathered in Sydney to protest the 50th anniversary of the arrival of First Fleet in NSW.
  • In 1938, the ‘Day of Mourning & Protest’ conference and march in Sydney in protest of 150-year celebrations, was attended by more than 1000 people.
  • In 1970, on the Bicentenary of Captain Cook’s landing at La Perouse, Aboriginal protestors staged a ceremony of mourning and called for national Land Rights. In Melbourne, a car campaign sticker was launched with the words ‘Cook is bad news for Aborigines’.
  • In 1972, Prime Minister McMahon announced his policy that there will be no Aboriginal title to land.
  • In 1988, Australia Day was dubbed ‘Invasion Day’ when 40,000 marched through Sydney in protest of bi-centennial celebrations.
  • In 2009, Mick Dodson was named Australian of the Year, and said that the use of January 26 as Australia Day alienated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and he urged national debate on changing the date.

There are many ways we can exhibit our national pride, and Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous Rights Advisor Rodney Dillon gave us some good insights into how we could celebrate a more inclusive Australia. He said 26 January meant sorry business for his people as it is a date of grief and mourning, not a day of celebration.

“That date is the anniversary of the colonisation of this country 230 years ago. It’s the date that began all the killing, the rapes, the slavery, the incarceration, the wrenching of children from their mothers’ arms and the theft of our beautiful land and waters,” he said.

“Every year that Australia Day is held on the anniversary of colonisation is another year that Australians try to pretend our history of brutality didn’t happen.”

Fremantle paved the way to move the celebrations for a more inclusive Australia

After many talks and speculation of moving the date at a national and local level, The City of Fremantle boldly declared their plans to offer an alternative Australia Day celebration in August 2016, and hence the event ‘One Day in Freo’ was born. Celebrating it’s third year, Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt said the inaugural event was the best he’d ever been involved in, despite facing a wide range of criticism.

“The feeling in the crowd was just amazing, with people of all ages and backgrounds coming together to celebrate everything that is great about being Australian,” he said.

Pictured: Amnesty WA attending One Day in Freo

This year, Fremantle is focusing on a more intimate experience and will be kicking off celebrations with a humble smoking ceremony at Bather’s Beach from 8am on Saturday 25 January. 

Aboriginal Legal Service CEO Dennis Eggington said Australia Day was a day that saddened him and his people.

“Australia Day is a day where Aboriginal people stopped living and started surviving,” he said.

“We’re proud of our country, we love our country and we want it to be unified and united, not divided.”

Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous Rights Manager Tammy Solonec said Australia Day should be for all Australians, regardless of ethnicity.

“For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who mark the day as one of invasion, survival and mourning, 26 January is not a day for celebrations. We need to move to a date that is inclusive of all Australians,” she said.

“Our country’s history goes back well beyond 26 January 1788. It began over 65,000 years ago — and we’re still making it now. Let’s stand together and respect the survival and resilience of the oldest living culture in the world and #ChangeTheDate.”

We at Amnesty believe that Australia Day should be for all Australians, however, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, 26 January is a painful day that marks the start of colonisation.

Celebrating the beginning of suffering for the world’s oldest living culture, is no celebration. We’re calling on the Australian Government to #ChangeTheDate so that all Australians can celebrate together.

What can you do to help? There are a number of ways you can be a part of #ChangetheDate:

  • Attend a local Indigenous cultural/Survival Day event. If you’re in Perth, head along to One Day in Freo on 25 January. These events are a great day out with friends or family.
  • Volunteer at a local Indigenous cultural/Survival Day event. This is a great way to meet with and build relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities.
  • Share our online actions, follow us on social media and add our #ChangetheDate frame to your Facebook profile picture.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper explaining why you support #ChangetheDate.

We are one Australia, one people, and black Australia is where our story starts. To not acknowledge black Australia and disregard their place and claim on the land, is undermining our history and our journey to one great, multi-cultural country, with many voices, identities and stories. Australia Day should be a day for all. Let us come together and stand in solidarity as one country and honour all voices, first Australians and every Australian that follows. #ChangeTheDate

Words by Jacqui O’Leary

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