#ChangeTheDate: what are the alternatives?

In recent years, every Australia Day is accompanied by Invasion Day rallies and marches. This year, Sydney's rally will begin at Town Hall at 10am. Photo: Matt Hrkac/Wikimedia Commons, published under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

With Australia Day once again upon us – and with it, the debate about changing the date of our national day – Tileah Dobson explores some alternatives to 26 January.

Each Australia Day, conversation returns to changing the date. The topic has been around since at least 1938, when Aboriginal leaders met in Sydney for a Day of Mourning on 26 January and protested against their treatment by white Australians.

However, within the last few years and through the technological advances of the internet and social media, the discussion has gained traction.

In 2019, the ABC’s Australia Talks survey asked 21,728 people if the date should be changed out of respect to Indigenous people, with 26 January marking the day the British settled – or invaded – Australia. Only 43 per cent agreed it should be changed.

That number rose to become a majority in last year’s survey, with 55 per cent agreeing it should be changed. With sentiment to change the date of Australia Day growing, the question remains: what date could we change it to?

When it comes to selecting a new date, it must be handled with care and discussed with the elders and leaders of Indigenous communities. Getting First Nations voices into the conversation is the first step in the right direction. Here at the Sentinel, we’ve looked over a few dates that could work for a new Australia Day.

1 January

On 1 January, 1901, the federation of Australia occurred when the six self-governing British colonies of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia agreed to unite and form a nation, the Commonwealth of Australia

It’s therefore a logical date on which to hold our national day. Problem is, it’s already a public holiday. And for many people, it’s a day for hangovers – not celebrations.

First Monday of February

While there is no historical significance to this date, there is an active campaign to use this date, which ensures that Australia Day results in a long weekend. It also ensures said long weekend occurs in summer – the best time for BBQs, backyard cricket, going to the beach and various other pastimes traditionally associated with Australia Day.

3 March

On 3 March, 1986, two Acts of parliament were passed in two different countries; one in Australia, the other in Britain. The nearly identical Acts – both called the Australia Act 1986 – were passed to formally separate legal ties between Australia and Britain, eliminating any remaining possibilities for the UK to be involved in Australian government and for an appeal from any Australian court to a British court.

While we first became a nation in 1901, some say this was Australia’s true independence day – and would therefore be an ideal candidate for Australia Day.

8 May

This option is a popular, though not always entirely serious, suggestion. If the date is read in the North American manner (May 8, instead of 8 May) it sounds like ‘mate’, which ironically gives it a firm foothold in Australian culture and identity.

“We are proposing May 8 because giving consideration to all Australians, and all the history of Australia will make Australia Day more inclusive, and Australia a greater nation for it,” the May8 – The New Australia Day website reads.

“Being a mate crosses cultural, community, religious and racial barriers … we all have a mate and we are all somebody’s mate, so let’s join together and respect the individual contribution we make, and that our communities make to Australia.”

26 May

National Sorry Day (also known as the National Day of Healing) marks the date when the nation remembers and commemorates the mistreatment of Australia’s Indigenous peoples, as part of an ongoing process of reconciliation between First Nations Australians and the settler population. 

Since its inception in 1998, it has seen Australia – particularly the government – acknowledge the harm, mistreatment and trauma imposed on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who were forcibly removed from their homes and communities, both during the initial colonial invasion and subsequently, during the Stolen Generations period.

26 May was the date, in 1997, when the Bringing Them Home report was published, which highlighted the plight of the Stolen Generations.

National Sorry Day occurs on 26 May, the anniversary of the day the Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Federal Parliament in 1997. Photo: buttupa/Wikimedia Commons, published under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

27 May to 3 June

Another possibility is any of the dates from 27 May to 3 June. This is known as National Reconciliation Week – a time when Australians are particularly encouraged to learn about our shared histories, culture and achievements as a nation.

“Reconciliation must live in the hearts, minds and actions of all Australians as we move forward, creating a nation strengthened by respectful relationships between the wider Australian community, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” the website for Reconciliation Australia states.

“We all have a role to play when it comes to reconciliation, and in playing our part we collectively build relationships and communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories, cultures and futures.”

Due to Covid-19, Warrang Sydney rally organisers have asked for participants to wear masks and social distance, with anyone feeling unwell urged to stay home. Photo: Matt Hrkac/Wikimedia Commons, published under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

30 July

The first time Australia Day was an official holiday was 30 July in 1915, mostly as a day to raise funds for the World War I effort. Moving Australia Day to this date would involve further focus on the Anzacs, who are already commemorated on Anzac Day. It could also provide a means to acknowledge the estimated 1,000 Indigenous Anzacs who served as part of the Australian Imperial Force in WWI.

No date change

Some have suggested no change in the date and there are Australians who don’t even celebrate the day for what it is. Some see it as just another day off work or an excuse to have a BBQ and throw a frisbee.

At the end of the day, this discussion will probably go on for some time, with perhaps even more dates suggested. But there’s a groundswell of support for changing the date, which points to one thing: the days of Australia Day being celebrated on 26 January are probably numbered.

Tileah Dobson is the news and queer editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

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