Australia Day: Celebration and Sorrow.

As this national public holiday approaches, it is an important to recognise that not every Australian celebrates this day.  There are many mixed feelings within our society, having multiple meanings as a day of both celebration and of mourning.

Each year, Australia Day is one of the highlights of the summer.  Perfectly positioned in the calendar to extend our season of celebration into late January, Australia day has become an annual tradition, celebrated nationally with BBQs, beach parties and music festivals. 

New South Wales has long celebrated this day, with Sydney being the focal point of initial British occupation, but January 26 came to the fore as a day of celebration during the 1988 bicentenary, with all states and territories joining New South Wales in their annual tradition. 

Over the past two decades, this has evolved as a symbolic day of national pride through Australian of the Year ceremonies and becoming a popular day for citizenship events.  Even though it feels like things have always been this way, the Australia Day long weekend became official in 1994, when it became a national public holiday.

Australia day marks the date that Captain Arthur Phillip formally took possession of New South Wales and raised the British flag back in 1788.  For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, this represents a time of deep loss of rights, family, land and culture. This is why Australia Day is sometimes called Invasion Day or Survival Day. 

We encourage people to consider that, for some, Australia Day can evoke feelings of pain, loss and shame for Australia’s Indigenous history.   The use of the Australian Flag as a symbol and the presence of the Union Jack provides a reminder of the British colonisation and dispossession of our Indigenous people.

The National Australia Day Council's motto, introduced in 1986 in preparation for the Bicentenary, centred on the national flag. Source: National Australia Day Council, National Archives of Australia: C4688, box 1 (www.australiaday.org.au)

 

It is not to say that either those who celebrate or mourn are correct in their perspective. However, a level of cultural sensitivity and an open mind to multiple perspectives is necessary. 

For some it is a day of joy, for others it is a day of sorrow.  For everyone, it is an opportunity to have the conversation about reconciliation, to be proud of our diverse culture and open up conversations about both our past and our future.   While considering the broad spectrum of emotions that Australia Day arouses in us, we can remain optimistic about a future where we build a more inclusive culture, recognising the impact of colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, and work towards closing the gap between indigenous and other Australians.

 

To Continue the conversation in your organisation, check out Symmetra’s First Australians Workshop.

For more information on Australia Day and its history, check out www.australiaday.org.au

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