Let’s change our national holiday

Let’s change our national holiday

Flinders Island now celebrates the Furneaux Islands Festival. Picture: NASA

IT is time to reflect on why January 26 is better as Australia Day than any of the other 364 days of the year.

The only significance of January 26 is to mark the coming to Australia of the white race in 1788.

That makes the celebration a race-based day.

The British were armed to the teeth, and from the moment they stepped foot in Australia, the slaughter and dispossession of Aborigines began.

It is one thing to acknowledge the historical facts, but quite another to celebrate them.

Many people point out that they are not celebrating the events of January 26, 1788, which they too deplore.

They celebrate all the good things being Australian means to them, all the things unrelated to that historic event.

Fair enough. That is all the more reason to shift the date.

The people of today did not choose January 26 as a date for celebrating Australia Day — that decision was made by a small group in NSW 200 years ago in 1808 or 1818.

The people of today have inherited a divisive date from people who, 200 years ago, didn’t really care about anyone other than themselves. Why should we be stuck with it?

Already others have suggested alternative dates such as Anzac Day on April 25.

Another possible date is the first day the federal parliament sat on May 9 and another the date of the May 27, 1967 referendum.

We need to find a less divisive date. Take Flinders Island as an example.

A couple of years ago the Flinders community discussed the divisive impact of January 26 and how the use of that date made many island residents feel uncomfortable in joining in celebrations.

Reflecting those discussions, the Flinders Island Council quietly moved celebrations to the weekend following January 26.

Suddenly all people could join in. The Furneaux Islands Festival now boasts cross-cultural artists including Aborigines Ronnie and Dyan Summers, Dwayne Everett-Smith and Jim Everett. Everybody joins in and has fun. There was some disagreement with the move but the change of date has unified the community.

Flinders Island is a template for the nation.

Why don’t we all follow the Flinders Island lead?

If we cannot immediately come up with a more suitable date, put celebrations off to the following weekend as Flinders has done.

Retired lawyer Michael Mansell has been an Aboriginal rights campaigner since the 1970s.