With the end of year festivities behind us, those of us fortunate enough to have a job have one thing on our minds… the next public holiday.
Unfortunately our next public holiday is one which comes with mixed feelings. Sure, it’s a day off in the Australian Summer, perfectly timed to enjoy the world’s biggest music democracy, but it is also a reminder that Australia (like many countries) has not faced up to its horrific past.
Most of the 197 countries with a recognised ‘national day’ on Wikipedia¹ celebrate one of the following categories:
- 143 – Independence from a foreign oppressor or colonial power
- 22 – Drastic change of governance (e.g. a revolution, becoming a communist nation, or a republic), usually towards its current form
- 13 – Royalty (e.g. Queen’s birthday, Coronation day)
- 9 – Unification from previously separate nations, or a separation from a previous group
- 4 – a religious occasion
Four countries chose a different cause for celebration:
- Portugal commemorates the death of a famous poet, Luís de Camões (best national day ever!)
- Spain remembers having colonised an entire continent
- New Zealand celebrates the Treaty of Waitangi, between the British Crown and Māori chiefs; and
- 1 country celebrates the day on which a foreign colonial power invaded its land, and started a devastation which led to the death of an estimated 90% of its native population.
Australia – the only country in the world which celebrates having been invaded/ colonised – the day in which another nation’s flag was raised on its soil, (the British Flag in Sydney Cove).
Many momentous occasions have taken place since Australia gained independence in 1901². The combination of these has led to what many of us enjoy today.
Choosing the perfect day will no doubt be a difficult decision. But avoiding one of the worst should be a no-brainer.
Celebrating the beginning of a massacre, dispossession, and centuries of legislated racial discrimination which almost destroyed the ‘oldest living cultural history in the world’³ shows an absolute lack of empathy for humanity, and seems entirely at odds with what one might expect are commonly held beliefs of “modern Australians”.
The devastation of Australia’s first peoples was so severe that over six times more Indigenous people died by Australian Federation than all Australian war casualties in all wars, ever (4).
The Indigenous population is only now reaching pre-colonisation numbers, over two centuries on (5).
Recognising that colonialists were not the national heroes we once painted them to be is not a novel idea. Countries across the American continent (6) have long been moving away from celebrating Columbus Day, which marked Spanish colonisation. Instead focusing on the impact colonisation had on indigenous peoples across the continent, and the work needed to mend interactions.
The 26th January is not a day for BBQs, beers, and country-wide sing-alongs to the year’s best music.
It’s a day of mourning.
Perhaps a day to acknowledge how far we’ve come, and reflect on how far we’ve got to go.
 https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/war_casualties/ – All war casualties = 102,815. Indigenous casualties is estimated by the loss of 90% of commonly agreed estimate of 750,000 people pre-invasion
 http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3238.0.55.001 compared to pre-colonisation estimates