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Thus Spake Mungo: Inventing the ‘tradition’ of Australia Day

Richard di Natale is wrong. Changing the date of Australia Day should not and will not be the top issue of 2018.

But Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten are equally wrong: it cannot be dismissed as a non-issue either. It may well be a low priority among all the numerous crises, genuine and confected, that bedevil the commonwealth; most Australians, including many indigenous Australians, have more important things to think about.

But every time our national holiday comes around there is more controversy, more division. As the conservative Ian Macfarlane admitted last week, he did not feel comfortable being told to rejoice in dispossession and massacres, and an increasing number are equally concerned that Australia Day will eventually have to be changed.

Few have arrived at a conclusion; there is still to be a major debate about how, when and just what, if any, alternative is to be worked out. But as Macfarlane points out, the problem will not go away and it cannot, as Turnbull might hope, be wished out of existence. That approach has not worked to remove Tony Abbott and it won’t work this week either.

The 230th anniversary of Captain Arthur Phillip’s landing on January 26, 1788 celebrates nothing more or less than the implementation of a decision of the English parliament under a demonstrably insane monarch to dump its unwanted surplus convicts at an unwanted outpost at the other end of the earth.

Turnbull’s talking points, assiduously promoted by most in the coalition party room, is that Australia Day is a celebration of our indigenous heritage, our British foundation and our multicultural character.

Well that may his ideal, but in fact it is nothing of the kind. The 230th anniversary of Captain Arthur Phillip’s landing on January 26, 1788 celebrates nothing more or less than the implementation of a decision of the English parliament under a demonstrably insane monarch to dump its unwanted surplus convicts at an unwanted outpost at the other end of the earth. It had nothing to do with Australia; Australia did not exist for another 113 years.

It may have been a significant date as part of the British foundation, but hardly the most important one: Lieutenant James Cook had landed in the same harbour 18 years previously, and had presumed to declare the continent a possession of Great Britain (his orders included the proviso “with the consent of the natives,” but as became the practice for at least a couple of centuries, the natives were not consulted – as usual, they were expected to suck it up).

And if we are to be pedantic, he was not the first Englishman to “discover” the great southern land; that distinction, if it can be called such, belongs to the pirate William Dampier who dropped in on the west coast in 1688. To conflate the establishment of a convict colony with celebration of nation’s past, present and future is frankly delusional.

If political correctness can be defined, it must surely mean that clinging to a real or imagined past at all costs, the obstinate refusal to admit that the times have changed and opinions have moved on. Real political correctness is conservative, even reactionary.

In his guise of Captain Goodvibes, Turnbull may exhort the masses to wave flags and cheer patriotically as they choose between the beach and barbie on their day off; but the historians and sceptics will not be impressed, and they will certainly not be assuaged by the knee-jerk sneers that it is just another case of political correctness – that now all but meaningless phrase which has come to signify any views the elitist commentators of the right do not share, rather like Donald Trump’s ranting about fake news.

If political correctness can be defined, it must surely mean that clinging to a real or imagined past at all costs, the obstinate refusal to admit that the times have changed and opinions have moved on. Real political correctness is conservative, even reactionary.

But it appears to be the fall-back position for those opposing change, perhaps because they realise that that there are actually no serious arguments in favour of the current date – other than the fact that change is favoured by the progressives, and must, by definition, be unAustralian.

An amusing example came from our citizenship minister Alan Tudge, who seems to think that the main purpose of his portfolio is to defend January 26 as the permanent and sacrosanct moment that defines our country and its culture. Actually it was not even declared an anniversary at all until 1938, did not become official until 1946 and did not become a national holiday until 1994, but you can’t expect a junior minister to know very much history. Tudge is inventing a tradition, not upholding it.

However, Tudge says that it is a terrific day, and adds that some indigenous Australians have been awarded the title of Australian of The year, for which he apparently imagined they should be pathetically grateful, perhaps harking back to the days when his forbears festooned compliant collaborators with shiny medallions and called them chiefs and even kings.

So even if we ignore the bunyip in the room – the invasion, the stealing of the land and the children, the destruction of the culture, the systematic trampling of the many nations which once made up the continent – there are copious reasons to question whether our national festival of nationalism and booze is, to use one of Turnbull’s favourite words, appropriate.

Many have urged that we should wait for the inauguration of a republic to make the switch, but given that Turnbull is prepared to procrastinate indefinitely to delay or frustrate that ambition, it may be more sensible to at least consider other possibilities – obviously January 1, when Australia actually came into being as nation is awkward given that it is already a public holiday (where would we get the extra fireworks?) but perhaps July 9, when in 1900 Queen Victoria gave real assent to the constitution, or May 9, when the Australian parliament first sat on the following year, would make some sort of sense – certainly more than the setting up of a convict colony.

And there is another reason to abandon January 26: it is also India’s national day, when the population finally won the struggle for independence over Britain and became a proud and independent republic. Rather more salutary than the landing on that fatal shore.

The real news is that the latest polling shows that a clear majority of Australians don’t really care what the precise date should be, as long as there is a national holiday. So really, there is no sensible reason not to change the date – except that to do so would enrage, the ignoramuses, the bigots and the ranters of the right. And Malcolm Turnbull could never let that happen, could he?


50 responses to “Thus Spake Mungo: Inventing the ‘tradition’ of Australia Day”

  1. Kim Imber says:

    Excellent article. Love your work Mungo.

  2. Neville says:

    Why are we Australian’s celebrating a British celebration of conquest seeing Australia had not been officially born at the time of those illegal boat people arriving on these shores ?

    • Bob Downer says:

      You mean the “illegal boat people”who created the opportunity to establish the wealthy and stable society you live ion?

    • Joachim Staats says:

      Keep the date and name it for what it is…’Conquest Day’. Then find a new date to be called ‘Australia Day’.

  3. Doug says:

    Mungo,
    as usual you are a voice for reason.

    I am a republican, so when the country decides to remove the shackles of the royalty, we will have a spare day in the middle of the year. If we can organise our Republic declaration to happen in June, we can have a republic day in June (a time of few public holidays), so keeping our days off reasonably even. I do not think too many would rue the loss of Invasion day, or the Queen’s Birthday (sorry Mr Rabbot, you don’t count!) which I don’t think is even her true birthday.
    Of course this will take some time, so I think we should begin the move, then proclaim it (if accepted) after the loss of our current royal.

    Vive la neuveau Tradition!

    regards,
    a reasonable anti-Royalty.

  4. Liz Levy says:

    Alfred Deakin may have been the Father of Federation, and a commendable visionary, but he really didn’t show much foresight in not seeing the problems that would arise from celebrations on a day when everyone already has a hangover. What a missed opportunity for marking a decent event and another public holiday!

  5. Hotspringer says:

    The ACT already have a public holiday, Reconciliation Day, on the last Monday in May, commemorating the 1967 referendum which allowed the natives to be classed as human rather than fauna. Why not extend this around the country as Australia Day?

  6. vera says:

    Turnbull isn’t treating it as a non-issue. He’s trying to use it as a wedge, challenging Shorten to support the status quo. Thus demonstrating his pathetic lack of ability to lead anybody anywhere about anything.

  7. Bruce says:

    Bruce says
    “Invasion Day” was really the day the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay which was somewhere between the 18th & 24th January 1788.
    La Perouse landed in Botany Bay around the 26th January 1788

    • Roger says:

      Thats right, dont let facts get in the way of a good story Bruce. And given we are still very much subjects of the queen of England and maintain the union Jack on our flag I suggest the settlement of Britt in Australia is as logical a fit as any to recognise the historic turning point for modern Australians. It doesn’t have to just be a celebration either. I genuinely feel sorry for the people involved in all those traumas. Just like I would a war. Just like I do for many sad events around the world. And that is time for reflection. So let’s keep Australia day and include all of the conversion… and not sweep it under the carpet with the PC language .. or is taboo just saying that.

    • Bob Downer says:

      Yep and if the French had settled here it would not even be an issue as the French are not navel gazing losers like some regressive lefty Aussies are. Do you see the French making treaties with the Tahitians and New Caledonians? Nope. It is just the whining descendants of some convicts who do that here, mostly leftwing losers.

  8. Marion says:

    As Mungo says, most Aussies do not care what date Australia Day is celebrated as long as it is celebrated, why cannot all Australians of whatever colour, creed or ethnicity, agree on a suitable date to celebrate our pride and love of the greatest country on earth? Wouldn’t this then put a stop to thie annual argument?

    • Bob Downer says:

      We do agree on a date, January 26th. This idea most people do not care is a lie. Like most reasons for change from the regressive left like Mungo and his Greens mates, it is a lie fostered in academia wherein the narrative has emerged that somehow the Aborigines owned this land. They never had a culture of ownership, they still don’t other than the one Europeans taught them. So claiming ‘native title ‘ is a joke. Where are these titles kept and recorded? On bark strips? So it was easy for the Brits to claim it under their title system. For all intents and purposes Australia was empty compared to Europe.

  9. Frank Shipway says:

    “Lieutenant James Cook had landed in the same harbour 18 years previously”
    Don’t think so, he sailed past. He landed at Botany Bay or so I was taught many years ago.

  10. robot says:

    As far as PC is concerned, when I was a young learning robot, it was a question of reading the relevant books and deciding upon the strength of the arguments; mostly it was about being nice to each other. Now it is a question of continuing policy and how much it can be regulated and passed on, like the salt and pepper.

  11. robot says:

    There has been a similar debate about Anzac Day, as commemorated in One Day of the Year, which in its days raised quite some fervour. It is not that celebrating the establishment of a convict settlement makes sense, as celebrating a massive failure makes sense … or is it that, in obscure Australian sense? The acceptance of stuff like history before it is rewritten for us, with the sanctity of hindsight and the advantage of the new colonisers.

  12. robot says:

    So Di Natali is only wrong in his presumption, nothing more. Of course the progressives must be right about history, after all, they’re rewriting it. From the earliest directions of Philip to his troops not to fire on the natives, to one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, this country has paved its way. With hindsight they’re were failures but mostly British Law has meant that; we don’t spear our foes in retaliation any more. What law do we want? There are many claiming a right.

  13. john mitchell says:

    Aside, I have destroyed my collection of Powderfinger Cold Chisel et cetera … apparently it is not enough to like the music, you have to agree with the politics. This country is delving into areas akin to Russia in the nineteenth century, fate or predestination. I choose fate, which allows me room to dither, the other is unconscionable.

  14. Gray Wilson says:

    Surely May 8th (mayaaate) is best?

  15. Param Berg says:

    “May 9, when the Australian parliament first sat on the following year,” gives some official cover to the appropriately laconic Aussie proposal of May 8.

    • Daniel Flesch says:

      Letter-writer in SMH 24th. Jan. points out that twice every seven years 9th. May is Mothers’ Day.
      So to get Oz Day transferred to that date we’d first have to convince the bulk of the population that Mothers’ Day (and Fathers’ Day ) were only invented by retailers to boost sales in otherwise slack times of year. Good luck with that one , eh ?

    • Joachim Staats says:

      February 29 anyone?

  16. chris white says:

    Yes, as well, around the 26th French ships are in the harbour and the British raised their flag to say this is our trading post – pathetic to celebrate. I prefer around Eureka rebellion – at least resistance. See http://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/01/26-january-or-thereabouts/

  17. Diana King says:

    The day a Treaty is signed would be a good day

  18. bro says:

    While I agree with, or encouraged to think by most of the content of this article when did Richard di Natale say that changing the date was the most important issue of the year? Maybe there was an unintentional slip of the tongue somewhere that I haven’t heard but it otherwise sounds very implausible to me.

  19. Graham Double says:

    The colonisation of Australia by the British Empire is marked as on the 26 January 1788 with the arrival of the First Fleet of British ships at Port Jackson and the raising of the British flag. Australia Day on the 26 of January clearly represents the beginning of colonisation of Australia and the decimation of its traditional owners.

    Aboriginal reactions to the sudden arrival of British settlers were varied, but often hostile when the presence of the colonisers led to competition over resources, and to the occupation by the British of Aboriginal lands. European diseases decimated Aboriginal populations, and the occupation or destruction of lands and food resources led to starvation.

    A settler wrote: We are at war with them: they look upon us as enemies – as invaders – as oppressors and persecutors – they resist our invasion. They have never been subdued, therefore they are not rebellious subjects, but an injured nation, defending in their own way, their rightful possessions which have been torn from them by force.

    The 26 January is therefore not a suitable date to celebrate modern multicultural Australia.

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples occupied Australia for 40,000 to 60,000 years before the British arrived in 1788. They spoke their own languages and had their own laws and customs. They also had a strong connection to ‘country’ – the Australian land.

    When the British arrived, they incorrectly declared that Australia was terra nullius (empty land – or land that belongs to nobody). As a result, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ occupation of and unique connection with the land were not recognised, and the British took the land without agreement or payment. By contrast with New Zealand, where the Treaty of Waitangi was seen to legitimise British settlement, no treaty was signed with Aborigines, who never authorised British colonisation.

    The Mabo decision was a legal case held in 1992. The legal decision was made by the High Court on 3 June 1992. The High Court is the highest court in Australia’s judicial system. It decided that terra nullius should not have been applied to Australia. This decision recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have rights to the land – rights that existed before the British arrived and can still exist today.

    Maybe 3 June should be Australia Day – the day Australia recognised the traditional owners’ rights to the land and a beginning at reconciling traditional ownership with the new immigrants who have come here to form modern Australia.

    • Bob Downer says:

      The treaty of Waitangi was signed because there was a military stalemate wherein the Maoris were consistently winning battles and the Brits wanted to cut their losses. In Australia the Aborigines did not fight that well against superior arms. They were the losers. Losers do not set conditions of their surrender the winners do. Whites won. Fact. The treaty of Waitangi was a tactical decision not one born out of the bleeding heart sesne of moral injustice nonsense you people carry on with.

      • Grae Grae says:

        It was about the timing. Three years before the Treaty of Waitangi, the Letters Patents for the colony of S,outh Australia required Rentals or Treaties, as did the 1763 Royal Proclamation, but the situation was so desperate in Britain to find new places to dump their social problems in the 1780s, they broke their own laws.
        Nothing to do with military resistance. Just another way to belittle the true owners of these lands.

    • John Newton says:

      First we had to decide they weren’t there By proclaiming the land empty, in the eyes of the law –
      and by extension, the eyes of the European populace – it was agreed
      that Aboriginal Australians did not really exist. How did this illogical
      doctrine come about in the first place? Nowhere else in the world,
      neither in New Zealand nor North America, had the British
      propounded or adopted such a policy. And it lasted right throughout
      the 1830s and 1840s, an era which saw ‘the rise of an active British
      humanitarian movement seeking to improve the conditions of
      indigenous people throughout the empire…the culmination of this
      movement being the abolition of slavery.

      In the meantime, over here, those fine upstanding abolitionists were slaughtering the non existent Indigenous inhabitants of Australia

  20. Michele says:

    The first recorded clash between the aboriginals and white men was on the western side of Cape York Peninsula, at a point marked Cape Keerweer. Captain Wilhelm Janzoon, a Dutch navigator and explorer in the ship “Duyfken” in 1606 landed here and was met by aboriginals. A fight occurred, a Dutchman was killed. This was the first place at which aboriginals struck a blow in the defence of their country.

    • Simon says:

      Yes the great untold story of Australia’s “discovery” by Europeans

      It was a commercial trade mission. And all three landings on Cape York ended in fatal confrontations. The locals came off best in all cases.

  21. Simon says:

    Jan 26th – a day that should never be forgotten

    Changing it will be the end of this discussion each year. Turning it into Invasion Day and keeping the focus on the historical record is much better than moving it to another day for the Howard Blue Shirts to assemble in their annual drunken orgy of patriotic idiocy.

    Ironically, the day was historically a day of protest in the 30s through to the 60s by the early Aboriginal political movement.

    If the day becomes more and more associated with our unvarnished historical truths, then in will be the Howard Blue Shirts and their insipid leaders like Dutton and Abbott who will be making the case to move it. And probably the only time that will become possible without looking churlish will be if and when Australia becomes a republic.

    Keep it on the 26th and keep the truth of our historical past open to all to see and not buried under the sand.

  22. Doug says:

    Change it to Feb 29 and we only have to have the arguments once every four years

  23. Michele says:

    Maybe we should have two ‘Australia’ days. One on the 26th January for those in favour (Australia came from the Spanish anyway), and another date, you could call it ‘Gondwana’ day. I know that sounds divisive but it’s going to be divisive anyway.

  24. Grae Grae says:

    Mungo, some factual errors
    It’s been obsficated big time, however, where you write
    “Lieutenant James Cook had landed in the same harbour 18 years previously, and had presumed to declare the continent a possession of Great Britain (his orders included the proviso “with the consent of the natives,” but as became the practice for at least a couple of centuries”

    Cook never went into Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) and Cook didn’t claim the lands, that was done in 1787 by the British Parliament and performed by Guvna Phillip.
    Cook reportedly claimed a coast between two latitudes, but only up to the high water mark, plus the bays inlets and waters, as per Maritime Law

  25. Brenda L Croft says:

    Wonderful, funny, on the money, but those who need to know will continue with their blithe ‘see no, hear no’ whatever doesn’t placate their injured sense of misplaced patriotism. I’ll keep sharing posts like this!

  26. Tim says:

    Mungo, you speak of the confected nature of Australia Day being celebrated on Jan 26, then go on to list similarly useless days as many others have. There is no date worth celebrating until we have an equitable treaty or treaties with Aboriginal nations. Otherwise any of the dates suggested will inevitably be the same jingoistic chest beating idiot fest it has become now.

  27. Roger says:

    While we are at it.. let’s dismantle the legal system the British installed. That would appear to be the fair thing.

  28. Gone green says:

    Is that the same system which allows us to speak freely about these issues without fear of violent retribution?

  29. Bob Hawkins says:

    We should carefully study each day of the year to discover which of the 365 (or 366) is the least offensive to all Australians. That way, the least controversial could become our national day.

  30. Ian says:

    Enjoyed Mungo’s article, even the solecism reegarding Cook’s voyage. However the rebellious American settlers meant the prison hulks anchored in the Thames could not be cleared until a new place could be found. Today’s concerns over the cruelness of it all are pointless when considering 18th Century world views. The English set up a convict dumping ground without thought or reflection on the locals: they were collectively brushed aside as ‘natives’. They landed, occupied, invaded, raped and pillaged because they could, all other post-hoc self-flagellation is irrelevant. Find a date in all that, or go to 1901.

    • Gone green says:

      Ian – you make an unbelievably pertinent point – which I’ve not seen anywhere discussed, at all.
      What about the convicts? Many of whom I gather may well have been consistently abused by authorities for minor or desperate offences. Sent to a land months away to rot in the nether regions of the earth. And out of them (and a lot of others no doubt) has come this marvellous home for all.

  31. Bob Downer says:

    Looks like Mungo has been wasting more time down at the pub listening to his drunken lefty mates.Just exactly what would a treaty accomplish? Would it somehow create a new mythology, you know the one you progressives love to foster, that Aborigines “owned” this country? What a load of codswallop. There is no culture of land ownership of any kind among Aborigines. One would wonder whether they even knew where they were geographically half the time considering the vastness of this place. Did they navigate by the stars perhaps? The greater part of the land was uninhabited. How many people were actually here when Dampier and Cook landed? Not that many I would say and the idea that white Australians have committed genocide is an insult to their descendants and the typical tool of those looking for importance and restitution where there should be none. Evidence has been recently uncovered that shows the Aborigines were not the first people here. Should they be forced to acknowledge the genocide their ancestors committed? People have inhabited lands for millions of years and wars and invasion, conquering and dispossession has happened all through history. The funny thing is that I bet most of the supporters of this fake narrative of so called “Aboriginal possession”are the same people who would deny the Jews their ancestral homeland based on the false notion that there once existed a people called the Palestinians. Australia is a brilliant nation full of great people and from time to time they have to put up with this nonsense coming from the left because essentially lefties have nothing much to offer society other than their constant whining me tooism and desire to live eternally off welfare and other people’s money. And Mungo you are one the most snivelling whingers of all. Go back down the pub. The idea that King George was a raving lunatic is indicative of the snivelling desire to slander the monarchy, a favourite past time of those who contribute little to society. If George was so crazy how come he managed to oversee the colonisation of this country? Tell us Mungo what have you actually done with your life time other than sit at the pub getting pissed and writing drivel? Facts are a superior and technologically advanced culture overtook a basically stone age one. Too bad. Get over it. And the reality is that people like you Mungo have benefited enormously from that. I recall you come from a rather wealthy family which has given you the opportunity to spend endless hours down at the pub ruminating on how you can stick it to the people who have created this nation from virtually nothing to become one of the most advanced societies on earth, which is typical off the so called progressives. Soon as some Aborigines have invented things other then bark huts and spears let us know.

    • Glenn Willcox says:

      If you would like to ease your ignorance you would do well to read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe.I am intrigued to hear of your evidence of how exactly Homo Sapiens have engaged in millions of years of conflict when they have only existed on earth for approx 200k years?
      Also, where is the evidence for the genocide commited by Aboriginal people against a ( non existent ) earlier occupying people? Absolute nonsense!

  32. Ian A Baird says:

    Actually Mungo, Captain Cook never entered Sydney Harbour, he named it Port Jackson, but sailed right past and continued north. He landed at Botany Bay in April 1770 and it was Sir Joseph Banks who thought Botany Bay should be the site of the settlement in 1788. However Capt. Arthur Phillip favoured Sydney Cove. Cook preferred Jervis Bay, a far better harbour large enough, he wrote in his journal, for the entire Royal Navy to ride at anchor. And surely 1 January would be a much better day. After all, the new years celebrations take place on New Years Eve. Make both New Years Eve and the following day 1 January Australia Day public holidays and the problem is solved. And we could economise on the fireworks too!

    • michael says:

      Leiutenant Cook only became an Honouary Captain much later (I think before his 3rd and final / fateful voyage). All the monument with “Captain Cook” are technically incorrect when refering to his “discovery” of Australia. By all accounts he was quite a modest man and preferred not to be part of the Royal Navy. His first voyage was a commercial venture using commercial vessels …bit like modern trips to Antartica. Were the Admiralty using the Transit of Venus as a cover for finding new dumping grounds for convicts and the potential of political prisoners with unrest in France likely to flow into England

  33. Tri says:

    Excellent article. Australia Day (which only became a national holiday in 1994) simply does not represent exemplary human values which is one of the main purpose of having a public holiday… a day of reflection. Other countries’ independence days at least represent “bravery” or “consensus”. Australia Day is the most uncomfortable public holiday.

  34. Just another opinion says:

    I am conflicted about Australia Day and the push to move the date.

    On one hand I empathise and deeply regret what happened to the Australian first peoples but on the other hand I want to pay respect and honour to my own ancestors. In today’s climate it is hard to defend 26 January due to the co-oping of the date by a minority racist element in our society along with the equally compelling label of invasion day .

    Here’s my compromise; 13 May.

    This was the start of a mass deportation that lasted for 80 years of over 160,000 people who were ripped from their countries of birth, most never to return. It was the date that the first fleet left Portsmouth, we can call it Deportation Day. Over 20% Australians and 75% of Tasmanians can trace their family tree back to a convict ancestor, that’s around 5 million people today.

    By celebrating Deportation Day both peoples, black and white, can acknowledge the damage done to so many by the British Government whilst also honouring and respecting their own family heritage.

  35. Willaim says:

    “clinging to a real or imagined past at all costs”.

    Shhh , nobody mention that the ancient aboriginal tradition of the “welcome to country ceremony” was invented on the spur of the moment by Ernie Dingo and Richard Whalley in 1976. Also don,t mention the venerable “Smoking Ceremony” is described by Windschuttle as ” not part of any Aboriginal tradition but was invented by white academics”.
    Yawn, just another paean of praise to an imagined past at all costs.

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