Flat White

Let January 26 remain a day for all Australians

25 January 2019

1:00 PM

25 January 2019

1:00 PM

January 26, Australia Day, is a day for all Australians. It’s a day for being with friends, family and loved ones. A day for reflecting on what it means to be Australian and celebrating all the things we love about Australia: community, mateship, the Australian way of life, a fair go and, most importantly, our freedom.

Australia Day is also a time to recognise and acknowledge our history. That means we need to take the good with the bad, celebrate the moments that make us proud and accept those that don’t for what they are. But that should be the extent of it. Letting historic events define us risks robbing all Australians, particularly the newest among us, of the opportunity to be proud of who we are. That’s why it now more important than ever to reject perennial calls by the Greens and others to abandon a tradition that defines who we are as Australians.

Like Australia, the United States has a complicated colonial history involving elements we now recognise were unjust. The Americans I’ve spoken with during my time here all readily acknowledge this part of their history, but none seem to let it define their experience of what it means to be an American today. Why should they? Like most Australians, modern-day Americans hail from all over the world and are in no way connected to the events of the distant past.

It is no accident that 85 per cent of Australians support keeping Australia Day on January 26. Australia Day is immensely popular and our nation’s largest annual public celebration. More than half of all Australians participate in organised Australia Day events with friends and family each year. Three in four believe Australia Day means more than just another public holiday, and the vast majority believe the day is a time to recognise and celebrate our nation’s cultural diversity.

The slogan a “day for everyone” dates as far back as 1838. Even in those days, Australians recognised the importance of celebrating our shared freedom and common identity. In fact, records of celebrations to mark January 26 date back to 1808 when early Australians came together to “celebrate their love of the land they lived in.” Whatever else we might believe that they or their ancestors may have done, surely nobody can fault them for that – for loving their country?

Over 16,000 new Australians become citizens on January 26 each year. Significantly, those born overseas are most likely to celebrate Australia Day and least likely to support changing the date. As the son and grandson of migrant Australians, I think I understand why. Perhaps it’s because as these newest Australians, they best remember all the things about our great nation that we have to be truly thankful for. Perhaps it’s because, having experienced life without the benefits of being Australian, they know what it would be like to lose them.

Australia Day is a day for all Australians, no matter our differences, no matter who we are or where we came from. That is the beauty of Australia, our great diversity coupled with a shared identity and values: something that makes the US and Australia like no other countries on Earth.

January 26 is for the seven million Australians for whom Australia will never be their place of birth, but will always be their home. It’s for the 12 million Australians, many of them young people like me, whose parents were not born in Australia and for the 12 million Australians whose parents were. Australia Day is for our first people, for our most recent and for everyone in-between. Moreover, January 26 is a time to recognise the enormous contributions that everyday Australians make to our great nation. In all these ways and more, Australia Day truly is for everyone.

The leading alternative name for January 26 among those who wish to abolish Australia Day, “Invasion Day”, certainly doesn’t inspire the same sense of unity and harmony. Instead, “Invasion Day” advocates want us to forget all the good that January 26 has come to represent. Instead, they want to define us and divide us, not on the basis of our common values, but on the basis of our genetic ancestry. What message does this send to today’s new Australians?

Furthermore, pretending that changing the date of Australia Day will do anything to expunge centuries-old grievances from history or improve conditions for a single Aboriginal Australian is of benefit to nobody. Instead, we need to work towards delivering better health, education and employment outcomes for these Australians – things that have nothing to do with the date we celebrate being Australian.

Focusing too closely on things we were never responsible for and can never change teaches young Australians to pay far too much attention to the things that arbitrarily divide us, rather than the things that truly unite us. That is why, this January 26, as we give thought to how lucky we all are to be Australians, let’s forget about the few things that divide us and let all Australians focus on the many things that unite us.

Xavier Boffa is the immediate past national president of the Australian Liberal Students’ Federation. He is currently interning with a US Congressman in Washington, DC.

Illustration: National Library of Australia.

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