by Serena Chubb – Smart Teachers’ Melbourne office
Australia Day is celebrated annually on the 26th of January and it marks the date that Sir Arthur Phillip travelled to Sydney Cove with a small entourage from the First Fleet and claimed the land in the name of King George III.
Broadly speaking, the historical significance of this date is not at the forefront of many Australians’ minds on Australia Day, who appreciate the national holiday as a general celebration of what’s great about Australia and being Australian. Approximately 28% of Australians are born overseas and about 20% of Australians have at least one parent born overseas. Despite the population being comprised of varying ethnicities, this is a day where most people (no matter who they are or where they are from) come together and enjoy having a BBQ, going for a swim, playing some cricket and listening to the iconic Triple J’s Hottest 100 music countdown.
Australia Day is a celebration of unity, however, there are certainly dark undertones that create divisions within the community. Recently in Victoria, an Australia Day billboard featuring two young Islamic girls wearing hijabs was taken down – the reason being the notion that these girls do not appropriately represent what it means to be “Australian”. After significant public debate, the billboard has now rightfully been reinstated.
Many people also find this day difficult, for the arrival of the First Fleet marks the end of freedom for Indigenous Australians. The date has historically been referred to as a day of mourning, or most recently, ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Survival Day’.
Across the country, ceremonies are held to acknowledge the pain and suffering that many people experience on this day. One of the first large-scale protests occurred in 1938 with a silent march and meeting. 1938 was also the year when Aboriginals were forced to participate in a re-enactment of the landing of the First Fleet. Aboriginal people were locked up at the Redfern Police Barracks stables until the re-enactment was to take place. Then on the 26th of January, they were forced to run along the beach away from the British.
As a result, there is ongoing public debate for the date of Australia Day to be changed to one that is neutral and allows all citizens to truly celebrate what it means to be a modern Australian. It was not until 2013 that the Aboriginal flag and the Australian flag were raised together on Sydney Harbour Bridge for Australia Day.
These issues certainly highlight the fact that lots of work still needs to take place in order for our communities to adapt new social realities. Everyone should feel included and have a positive reason to want to celebrate being a part of modern day Australia.
Surprisingly, Meat and Livestock Australia is the organisation that has been most vocal about these issues, and is reaching out once again via their annual Australia Day campaign. Despite being an ad for eating lamb, this year’s ad even extends a hand to vegans in an attempt to ensure inclusion for all and assist in shaping the identity and cultural diversity of Australians today.