Australia Day is also referred to as ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Survival Day’ particularly by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. This is because it ‘celebrates’ a painful part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history. Australia Day celebrations have long been a hot topic at this time of the year and it only takes a quick scroll through social media posts to see how polarising this subject is to many Australians.

But let’s unpack some of the myths about Australia Day and start to consider the history of the day and how this day really impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Did you know?

  • Captain Cook landed in Botany Cove in April 1770. In his journal he recorded his landing on the afternoon of Sunday 29 April 1770. The First Fleet arrived at Botany Bay on 20 January 1788. Neither of these dates correspond to 26 January.
  • Australia Day has not always been celebrated on 26 January. It was first celebrated on 30 July in 1915 and it wasn’t until 1935 that all Australian states and territories used the name ‘Australia Day’ to mark 26 January. It was in 1994 that 26 January became a national public holiday.

To many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, there is little to celebrate and it is a commemoration of a deep loss – loss of sovereign rights to their land, loss of family, loss of the right to practice their culture. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples the colonisation of Australia was the beginning of massacres, loss of culture and land and the start of years of discrimination and oppression – hardly something to celebrate.

You may hear people refer to 26 January as ‘Invasion Day’, ‘Day of Mourning’ or ‘Survival Day’. Aboriginal activist Michael Mansell believes that Australia Day celebrates ‘the coming of one race at the expense of another’. It is interesting to note that no other country in the world celebrates a day of national significance based on their colonisation. The United States does not celebrate the arrival of Christopher Columbus but instead celebrates the day it became an independent nation. New Zealand celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 when representatives of the British Crown and over 500 Māori chiefs signed what is considered New Zealand’s founding document.

More than a third of Australians recognise that Australia Day is no longer an appropriate day for celebrations and want a new day which includes all Australians.

56% of surveyed Australians say they don’t mind when the day occurs, challenging the notion that Australians see January 26 as sacred or untouchable. Others believe moving Australia Day would not solve anything and it would elevate one culture above other and only serve to exacerbate the already high tensions in the community.

But would it really be that bad to move to a date the encompasses a celebration of who we are as Australians today?

In 2010 Mick Dodson, Aboriginal law professor and Australian of the Year 2009, expressed his hopes for a new day. ‘90% of people are saying Australia Day should be inclusive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. I firmly believe that some day we will choose a date that is a comprehensive and inclusive date for all Australians.’

Many local Councils have attempted to adjust their Australia Day celebrations out of respect to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Triple-J, which used to count down the ‘Hottest 100’ songs on Australia Day, moved this program to the fourth weekend of January for the first time in 2018 because of the increasing debate around 26 January. And only last year (2020), Cricket Australia announced that it would drop the term ‘Australia Day’ from its promotions for the Big Bash League competition scheduled for the weekend before the event and simply refer to it as 26 January.

Part of being culturally competent is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes – seeing the world through their eyes.  So, when next thinking about the Australia Day debate, think about how you or your family would feel if the whole country celebrated a day that was a painful reminder of wrongs done against your family.

Click on the links below that help to understand Australia Day from another perspective:

Acclaimed songwriter David Beniuk questions why January 26th has been picked to be celebrated as
Australia Day in his memorable song:

And hear from Aboriginal Australians and their thoughts on Australia Day:

This blog has been written by our very Deeann Natividad, a Regional Strategy Specialist for jobActive. Her family ancestry lies with the Waka Waka peoples, whose traditional lands are in Queensland.

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