Australia Day is a day of celebration of our great country for most Australians, whatever their origins, but a lot of argument is developing over the chosen date of 26th January. This was the date in 1788 when Captain Arthur Phillip declared New South Wales (as it was then named) to be a British colony.
At that time, the Aboriginal population had occupied the country for over 50,000 years, and they resent the adoption of the date of British colonisation as the symbolic beginning of Australia. Many Aborigines call it “Invasion Day” which reflects how they see it. With an understanding of the Aboriginal story, it is easier to realise why 26th January is becoming a divisive date.
The great land in the south attracted quite a few explorers. The first on record were the Dutch led by Dirk Hartog who explored the west coast of the continent. There are some historical monuments to Hartog in WA. He was followed by the French who also explored the southern coast, and then the British whose Captain Cook was first to travel the eastern coastline. It is an interesting coincidence that the French Captain La Perouse sailed into Botany Bay only a few days after the arrival of the First Fleet.
However many historians believe that before them all were the Chinese who developed an extensive navy far superior to any European country, and reaching its peak in the 15th century. They had developed a magnetic compass and used sophisticated star charts to navigate at night.
The Chinese boats travelled to Africa and possibly even America, but more importantly for us, fragments of old maps appear to show parts of the northern Australia coastline. It is believed that many parts of the world could have been colonised by the Chinese had they followed the course subsequently pursued by the British.
What does all this mean? It probably helps demonstrate that Australia has a chequered past, visited by sailors from many countries along its lengthy coastline, but throughout it all the Aboriginal people continued their centuries-old way of life. So, is the date of British colonisation a representative date for the commencement of Australia as a nation? Increasingly, many Australians are beginning to question this.
The 26th January has long been celebrated in NSW but was only adopted by the other states and territories in 1994. So what are the other options?
One of these is 1st January which was when federation began in 1901. The problem with this date is that, as New Year’s Day, it is already celebrated as a national holiday, and it occurs at a time when a large proportion of the population is on holidays away from home.
Another suggested date is 27th May which was the date in 1967 when Aborigines were given rights under the constitution, making it all inclusive, after a referendum which exceeded 90% in favour.
In the opinion of a Feather Duster for whom every day is now a holiday, late January seems to work for most people.
If it is decided to make a change, perhaps forgetting the exact date and settling on the fourth or last Monday of January might be a good compromise: Mondays seem to suit both businesses and workers for public holidays, and maintaining some proximity to the current date might help with general acceptance.
One advantage of living in a regional area is we rarely have to put up with the Sydney metropolitan transport system.
The NSW transport minister Andrew Constance has had to backflip from his poorly thought out decision to give a Sydney ferry a ridiculous name. On top of that, he has been outed as misleading (to put the best possible light on it) the public over the public vote which was used in the naming process.
The minister claimed the approved name received more votes than the next in line which was CleanUp Australia founder Ian Keirnan’s who had been prematurely advised by departmental staff that a ferry would be named after him. Documents obtained under FOI are reported to reveal that the actual vote for the SillyMacSilly name was a mere 182 whereas Ian Kiernan attracted over 2,000. The minister apparently made a “Captain’s Call” which was about as well received by the public and ferry workers as another “Captain’s Call” by a former PM to knight Prince Philip. Worse, he then covered up and many would say he outright lied to justify his intervention. He has now demonstrated the depth of his character (or lack of it) by bypassing Ian Kiernan again for the latest name.
This week’s dedication is of course to the NSW transport minister. After eliminating “Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey” for not having enough votes, the chosen song is an oldie but a goody by the Knickerbockers – “Lies.”
Feather Duster No 3 –