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by Conor Burke
posted 26/01/2018

Australia Day, let some of us rejoice!

Australia day is upon us again, a time for flags and snags, beers and pavlova. But something else is about to become synonymous with our national day, controversy.

The 26th of January for many Australians is a time to celebrate the birth of a modern, diverse nation, a lucky country.

The 26th of January for many other Australians is a day of mourning, a time when the massacre of their people is celebrated by the nation.

This issue is riven with ideological tensions, there are cries of free speech being trampled on both sides.

Mark Latham et al claim they need to save Australia day, and Tony Abbot insists that “Australia Day is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate all of the things we’ve achieved”.

“What happened on the 26th of January 1788 was on balance, for everyone – Aboriginal people included – a good thing because it brought Western civilisation to this country, it brought Australia into the modern world”.

Mark Kenny of the Sydney Morning Herald  suggests a compromise move to May 9 could work. The date of federation, the date parliament moved to Canberra and the date in 1988 when the current parliament opened.

This is issue is complex, it would be easy to class it as black versus white Australia, however this is far from the case.

Norma Ingram, Jacinta Price, Peter Fitzsimmons and Tom Switzer Comment.

A recent event held at the centre for independent studies, saw a panel led by Tom Switzer discussing the pros and cons of moving the date.

Four of the five indigenous voices on the panel were against moving the date whilst Aboriginal elder Norman Ingram and Staunch Republican Peter Fitzsimons were the two “change the daters”.

Jacinta price (NT councillor and prominent save Australia day campaigner) believes the date is significant,  if colonisation hadn’t happened, she would not be here, and ignoring the date does not help us all move forward.

She also believes that it would be wrong to condemn the white Australian race for the sins of their forebears.

Former liberal candidate for Sydney and constitutional lawyer Geoffrey Winter suggests the drive to change the date is more about “white guilt and perhaps a little bit of indigenous self-righteousness”. and that Australia day being on the 26th helps us all to have these uncomfortable debates.

In a somewhat scalding address, academic and ABC regular Anthony Dillion, told those “moaning and groaning” to grow up.

Dillon considers the idea that the date is hurtful to some, wrong, people choose to be hurt he says. He equated “change the Daters” to a crying child, trying to get their way. Dillion also worries that the “good will” White Australians have for aboriginal people is “slowly being drained”.

Republican Peter Fitzsimmons sees parallels between this argument and the push for same sex marriage.

“…as the years go by the internal logic of the argument was so strong that people got behind it”

“I think in the end, that is what will happen with this issue”.

Ever the opportunist, another strand to his argument is from the view of a republican. He feels a perfect day to celebrate our nation would be the date we become a republic, in the American ilk, our Independence Day.

Harvard educated Aboriginal elder Norma Ingram’s speech started with a hello in her traditional aboriginal language. She did this and pointed to the fact that on the reserve she was born into, her, her mother and grandmother were forbidden-under the Aboriginal welfare act- from openly speaking this language.

With controlled passion she gave a brief history of her people, and the injustices put upon those people. Ingram Impressed upon the audience the ancient spiritual nature of her people, and her argument centred around the notion that Australia, through terra nullius, was founded upon a lie.

Ingram does not want to celebrate “attempted annihilation of our people and our culture”.

In 1967 the idea that Aboriginal people were to be counted in the census was put to the Australian people.

If we are all truly to advance, fair, then this discussion must be had, and a definitive answer would help. And what better way to solve it than the new great Aussie tradition of plebiscite, let’s put it to the people, so perhaps we can all rejoice.

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