Australia Day & Beyond

In a recent column for The New Norfolk and Derwent Valley News I surveyed the nervousness and indecisiveness increasingly afflicting local Tasmanian councils as the 26th of January approaches. Some had half-hearted citizenship and award ceremonies but no fun, some ‘changed the date’ in line with bigger cities on the mainland, and some pretended it wasn’t happening and hoped no one would notice and make a fuss. This is an edited version of that column….

In my neck of the woods, no municipal dithering or angst deterred the populace from having an Australia Day knees-up, judging by the sounds of revelry and the smell of grilling lamb chops wafting around the neighbourhood.  The recent arrivals over my back fence were among them.  I couldn’t follow the conversations because they weren’t in English, but the laughter and the music and the gaiety said it all.  Sam Kekovich could have shot his lamb commercial starting in their back yard and panning up and down my street.      

Nevertheless I fear the days of Australia Day are numbered, with support for a change of date growing significantly among the young, the ones who will have to sort out the mess. 

And it is a mess.  Even within the indigenous population, in whose name the anti-Australia Day movement is conducted, there are as many differing views on what to do as there are outside it.  Leaders like Senator Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine want to keep it, others – mainly urban activists – want to change it, while yet another faction wants to keep the date so they can call it Invasion Day and march up and down against it.   

Meanwhile, some government departments and corporates have offered to let employees choose to come to work on January 26 and take a holiday some other day.  But what if half the workforce wants the day off and the other half doesn’t?  How’s that going to work for post offices, councils, shops, supermarkets and retailers?

And if we ditch January 26, what do we replace it with?  Some have nominated January 1st, the anniversary of Federation, but nobody’s keen on that because it’s already a holiday and we don’t want to lose one of those!  Plus it’s too boring and establishment for radical types.  As are July 9, the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s acceptance of the Australian Constitution, and March 3, anniversary of the Australia Act in 1986.  These were milestones in our breaking away from Britain, but they lack popular appeal, to say the least.  Hardly anyone’s even heard of them.

An anniversary more in tune with the zeitgeist is 27 May, anniversary of the 1967 referendum when 91% of Australians voted for indigenous Australians to be included in the census.  

How about Wattle Day, September 1?  It’s got our national floral emblem, our national sporting green and gold colours, and we could use a public holiday in early Spring.   

Some have suggested the fourth Friday in January because it would make for a good long weekend, and some wags have suggested May 8 because the abbreviation M8 sounds like ‘mate’. 

If we have to lose January 26, I’d plump for September 8, the anniversary of the first complete circumnavigation of Australia by Matthew Flinders and his aboriginal companion Bungaree.  It’s got a lot going for it: there’s an indigenous connection, Flinders was a good bloke, he loved his pet cat Trim so much he wrote a book about him, he thought up the name ‘Australia’, and there’s your nice Spring holiday right there. 

The author with her Oz Day barbie headgear