It’s the Monday before Australia Day, and my wife has taken the day off work, so it’s kind of a 4-day weekend for us.
A new poll released this morning finds that 48% of Australians think that Australia Day (our official national day) should remain on the 26th of January, while 28% think that the date should be changed (with 24% not committed either way). This is a never-ending public debate, which, frankly, will continue to never end until the date is finally changed. The tide is slowly turning – those numbers in favour of changing the date have been increasing over the years, and they will continue to increase as younger generations of Australians replace older ones.
For anyone not aware, Australia Day is the 26th of January, which is the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of English settlers (and convicts) to arrive in Australia, in 1788. Australia’s indigenous population, quite naturally, don’t view this is a particularly good date to be celebrating – seeing it instead as a date when their land was stolen and their culture upended. Older, conservative, white Australians tend to say it’s a day for all Australians to come together and celebrate being a united nation, blind to the fact that this is insulting to the indigenous population. Younger Australians are more sensitive to this sort of issue and are starting to get behind the calls to change the date of Australia’s national day to something less offensive and more actually unifying.
I have no doubt whatsoever that the date of Australia Day will be changed in the future. It’s just a question of how soon. It’ll take the order of a generation, for the older conservative population to die away and the younger population to replace them. Interestingly, Wikipedia’s article on Australia Day has half the entire content just on the campaign to change the date.
Australia has this weird relationship with so many of our national symbols. There’s also a strong movement to change the flag, to remove the Union Jack from the corner, as it’s an old symbol of allegiance to the United Kingdom, which feels inappropriate to growing numbers of Australians. The flag change movement was gaining in strength up until New Zealand had a referendum on changing their flag (for the same reason) in 2016. That failed to pass 57%-43%. If it had passed, the push to change Australia’s flag would have intensified, but the failure of NZ to change their flag (this time) has dampened our own flag change campaign for the past few years.
But again, I have no doubt Australia will change its flag in the future, because the younger generations now replacing the older ones will see it as more of a priority.
Another inevitable change is changing our form of government. We already had one referendum in 1999 on removing the Queen (Elizabeth II) as our head of state and becoming a republic. That quite possibly would have passed if only the government of the time hadn’t deliberately worded the referendum questions to cause maximal disruption to the republic movement and actively campaigned for a no vote. But it will come up again, and it will pass one day.
The fourth symbol is our national anthem – the lyrics of which were actually changed just weeks ago, on 1 January. One word of Advance Australia Fair was changed, from “Australians all let us rejoice, For we are young and free” to “Australians all let us rejoice, For we are one and free”. The original lyric was seen as being insensitive to the indigenous population and their 40,000+ year old culture, implying that Australian culture was “young” – in other words, implying that Australian culture began when Europeans arrived. This change had been proposed for a while but its adoption by the current government came out of the blue with an announcement just before the new year.
As it stands now, the Australian national anthem is the least reviled of our national symbols, but there is a small movement to change it – mostly because some people simply feel it is dirge-like and tedious as a song. I don’t think this change movement has legs, and I don’t believe the anthem will change any time in the foreseeable future.
But the others: Australia Day, the flag, and our system of government, they will all change. Probably within the next 20-30 years, if not sooner.
For Australians, this is the state of our existence, the mixed feelings many of us have for our national symbols, or the outright hostility we have for them and the desire to change them. We live with this constant public debate over each and every one of them. Australia Day does not unite Australians – it serves to remind us that we don’t agree on the basic symbols of our country, and that an ever growing proportion of our population want to change them.
I don’t know if this makes us unique in the world, or at least in first world democracies. Can you imagine 30% of Americans actively wanting to change the national day from the 4th of July to some other date, 40% of Americans wanting to change the American flag, 50% of Americans wanting to fundamentally change the American system of government, and maybe 10% of Americans wanting to change the national anthem from The Star Spangled Banner to something else? Imagine if this were the case – how would Americans feel every time the 4th of July rolled around and all of these things got splashed all over the media again and again and you were subjected to endless TV debate and discussion about how all of these things are offensive to large segments of the population? It’s hard to imagine, but that’s what it’s like to be Australian.
None of this is going to die down and go away, until these things, our national symbols, are changed. It’s only going to get more discussed, and more rehashed, and more protests and more public campaigns until it happens. It’s just so constantly tiring to hear it all again, every year, for as long as I can remember.
Today was as hot as yesterday, and tomorrow is going to be the peak of this current heatwave, with the hottest temperatures yet in the city. A cool change is forecast to hit tomorrow evening, and Wednesday should be cooler, thankfully. I basically spent the day indoors, using the air conditioning to stay cool – except when I had to take Scully out. But after dinner, we went for a walk with my wife up to the local shops to get some gelato for dessert. The breezy evening air after the sun had set was very nice, if still warm and humid. I had a very nice lamington gelato: chocolate gelato with chunks of chocolate, sponge cake, shredded coconut, and raspberry jam ripples. It was a special flavour for Australia Day, and it was delicious.
At least that’s something we can agree on.
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