Councils joining the #changethedate campaign aren’t just missing the point, they are squandering an opportunity to make Australia Day better.
There is an uncomfortable reality that we mask on our national day with barbecues, flags, fireworks and civic functions. We’ve designed a day where there is no room for reflection on what we might have done better.
From the nationally televised award ceremony through to the grassroots festivities of Lake Weeroona* the tone is one of celebration.
Celebrating is great. It’s important that we are proud of our accomplishments. We should lionise the very best of our culture and the things that make us unique. Knowing what works and what we do well can only make us better.
It’s just a shame we have yet to find a way to both be proud and talk openly about the things we might like to forget.
Tellingly, when the City of Yarra voted through its reforms this month it decided to begin hosting a new January 26 event acknowledging the loss of Indigenous culture, language and identity, even as it recoiled from hosting award and citizenship ceremonies.
Councils contemplating Australia Day’s role in reconciliation find themselves torn between two camps. They can jump on the #changethedate campaign bandwagon or they can frown upon displays of introspection.
Ultimately, January 26 1788 simultaneously symbolises both the start of a national journey and the end of Indigenous culture.
Councils would do well to lead a grassroots charge to recognise both aspects of the day. They’d be helping make Australia stronger because they would be helping us start difficult conversations about mistakes and the actions past communities took to try and make things right.
There were valuable ethical lessons to come out of atrocities like dispossession, the White Australia Policy and the Stolen Generations, but communities cannot learn from those mistakes if they try to forget the wider wrong. What better day to remember those actions than on a day the entire country already gladly sets aside for nation-building?
It’s something councils like Hepburn, Moreland, Whittlesea and Banyule should carefully consider as they ponder the parts they play in Australia Day celebrations.
*The City of Greater Bendigo council has no official position on #changethedate and has not discussed changing the date of award or citizenship ceremonies.