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Byron Shire
March 8, 2021

Australia Day

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Australia appears to be unique among post-colonial nations in that its national holiday, Australia Day, commemorates not its independence from its former colonial masters but the foundation of the first of six British colonies on the Australian continent, the penal colony of New South Wales.

The establishment of an independent Australian nation on 1 January 1901 seems to be all but forgotten in the debate about Australia Day on 26 January. Surely the first of January would be a more appropriate date to celebrate the founding of Australia as an independent federation of former colonies.

Obviously the first of January is already a public holiday. Perhaps there could be another public holiday on the second of January, call it Australia Day or Federation Day, to replace the one on 26 January.

I hope that commemoration of Australia’s independence would be more acceptable to Australia’s Indigenous people than that of the foundation of a British colony and that it would be a truly unifying commemoration rather than the present date of 26 January, which produces so much rancour and disharmony.

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  1. Anniversaries are almost universally celebrated on the date of the occurrence: Birthdays on the date-of-birth, Wedding Anniversaries on the date-of-marriage.
    Why is the birth of the Commonwealth of Australia an exception? It’s “birthday” is January 1st.
    So it happens to be New Years Day also, so what ? Just make it a double celebration day!
    If there has to be a public holiday on January 26, then give it an accurate name such as:-
    ” Penal Colony Establishment Day”.

  2. Australia Day is a most significant day in our history as it marks the introduction of British law, migration, administration , governance and financial and cadastral systems to NSW which covered all of Australia except WA . We know it led to great suffering form disease and dispossession but it clearly marks the beginning of modern Australia. Far from unifying Australia changing the date creates a division between those prefer to forget the colonial past and those who do not want forgotten their colonial British convict and settler ancestors – and that includes most aboriginal people in NSW – and the role of indigenous people in ensuring the colony survived and prospered. Our history is complex and nuanced and at times deeply unhappy, but it should not be forgotten.

    The establishment of the Commonwealth on 1 January 1901 was but one of the milestones in our becoming and independent nation; it federated the colonies but did not make us an independent nation. It also marked an entrenchment of colonial racism with the repatriation of pacific islanders and introduction of the white Australia policy. Other important steps in our independence included the Statute of Westminster adopted in 1942 which released us from British legislation and force of British law; the Citizenship Act in 1948; the limits to appeals to the Privy Council in the ’70s; the changing relationship with sovereign and the role of the Governor-General ; and the final steps in Australia’s attaining independence from the United Kingdom taken under the 1986 Australia Act. We await the ultimate step which will be the severing of the British monarch from the appointment of the Governor-general and the establishment of that office as our head of state .


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