On Australia Day

Best day of the year.

Boxing Day, ANZAC Day and Easter Monday all have their charms – especially if the latter two combine for the mystical April five day weekend – but for me Australia Day is the winner. There’s cricket, tennis, lamb, prawns, the Hottest 100, sunshine, the beach. What more could you want? Best day of the year.

Which makes this a hard post to write. Because if you stop and think about it — there is a lot wrong with Australia Day.

For starters, Australia Day is a ridiculously unimaginative name. If there was a “USA Day” where the Yanks put temporary Stars and Stripes tattoos on their faces, we’d think it was hilarious. Similarly if there was Ireland Day, France Day, Germany Day or New Zealand Day. It’s silly and jingoistic and often brings out the worst in us.

USA! USA! USA!

What else would you call it though? Arrival Day? Landing Day? Invasion Day? And that’s a problem in itself. Given the collective havoc white settlement has (and continues to) wreak upon indigenous Australians, there’s a pretty strong argument that January 26 is not really a day to be celebrated but rather a day to be mourned. Not to say that white settlers should never have come to Australia but to acknowledge that what they did when they got here irreparably damaged one of the world's oldest living cultures.

In many ways, Federation Day would be a much better option for a public holiday. Its history is less fraught, its significance is broader and it’s got a much less silly name. The problem though is that Federation Day is New Year’s Day which would lead to a completely unacceptable double-up. Foolishly, when selecting the date for Federation they neglected the public-holiday implications. Regrettable.

I’ve made a huge mistake

While I’m on the topic, Australia has some really meaningless public holidays. We have four specifically Christian holidays even though only 60% are practicing Christians. We have Labour Day even though only 11% of workers are in a union and we have the Queen’s Birthday even though it’s not held anywhere near her actual birthday and a clear majority of people support becoming a Republic. Victoria also has public holidays for a horse race and for a parade before a footy game.

“Celebrate you peasants!”

Just about the only public holiday we can really be proud of is ANZAC Day which as far as I can tell is just about the best national Memorial Day going around. We wake early for Dawn Services, attend parades and gather at pubs, RSLs and BBQs to embrace our national pastime in a uniquely communal way. And there’s the footy. The minute of absolute silence between the Last Post and the Reveille at the MCG is one of the best things in Australian sport. I think it’s fair to say that we do ANZAC Day bloody well.

But this wasn’t always the way. In the 50s, 60s and 70s there was a strong public sentiment that ANZAC Day should be abolished. That it glorified something which absolutely should not be glorified and was just an excuse for bogans to get paralytic and make dicks of themselves. Sound familiar?

So, maybe Australia Day should be more like ANZAC Day. Instead of the day just being about cricket, tennis, lamb, beer and pretending you recognise all the songs in the countdown it could also become a day to recognise our indigenous cultural history. I have no idea whether this is appropriate (and I apologise if it’s not) but I think organised recognition ceremonies of Indigenous culture on Australia Day morning would be a great idea. Same goes for some sort of acknowledgement before any of the sporting events.

In reality, despite the social media campaigning, there is next to no chance that either the date or the name of Australia Day will change and that’s absolutely fine by me. It’s the best day of the year. But it could be better if we took it as an opportunity to celebrate all of our heritage, not just the part that arrived on a boat on January 26.

Let me know what you think.

Jez