This year, as with previous years Australia Day was marked by controversy and protests. Many Australians are beginning to question the relevance of the holiday. There is a small but growing movement seeking to replace our national day with a day that is less divisive and encompasses both our origins and the present.
In the days before Australia Day 2018, our firm was fortunate enough to be visited by Professor Marcia Langton who holds the Foundation Chair in Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne.
Professor Langton explained the (historical) anomalies associated with Australia Day.
Lt Arthur Phillip arrived at Botany Bay on 18 January 1788. Accordingly, Australia Day does not commemorate the arrival of the First Fleet to our shores.
Only one ship “the Supply” was in Port Jackson on that day as the rest of the First Fleet was in Botany Bay trapped by unfavourable weather conditions. They were also keeping an eye on the damned French navigator La Perouse. As such Australia Day does not commemorate the arrival of the First Fleet at Port Jackson.
What did happen on Australia Day?
According to Lt King’s journal they “drank the health of His Majesty & Success to the Colony” then “a feu do Joie was fired by the Marines and the whole gave 3 cheers”
Collins said they raised their flag in New Holland but claimed limited territory “confined along the east coast of the continent to such parts of it solely as were navigated by Captain Cook, without infringing on what might be claimed by other nations from their right of discovery”
On Australia Day, the white settlers did not drink to any nation. “Australia” was not used until the next century.
On 26 January Phillip established a penal colony not a nation.
Lt Phillip did not establish a government until 7 February.
Cook called the land New South Wales.
Cook had landed in the same harbour 18 years earlier and declared the continent the possession of Great Britain (including the proviso “with the consent of the natives.”)
One hundred years earlier in 1688, English pirate William Dampier in the Cygnet, landed on the west coast of Australia.
The Portuguese discovered the west coast of Australia before Dampier.
The Indigenous people have occupied this land for 65,000 years making them the oldest living population in the world!
Australia did not become a nation until Federation on 1 January 1901. Before that time we were a collection of British colonies.
On 9 May 1901, the Australian parliament sat for the first time.
It took 150 years for the anniversary of 26 January 1788 to be recognised. Before that time it was celebrated as Foundation Day in NSW only. It did not become an official day until 1946. It did not become a national holiday until 1994.
Marcia Langton is a descendant of the Iman people of the upper Dawson River valley, in southern Queensland.
In the 1850s massacres of the Iman in and around Hornet Bank station resulted in 300 Aborigines being killed. Disease reduced the Iman peoples to a few hundred people.
Many of her people are buried in mass graves at the old Taroom settlement or as it was originally called, the Bundalla Reserve, Queensland. Archaeologists have identified sites where indigenous Australians were piled up in valleys and incinerated.
Some of her people were incarcerated on Palm Island.
In 1927, the remainder of the Iman people (about 200), were forcibly marched to Woorabinda settlement in Central Queensland.
Langton does not celebrate Australia Day.