January 26: Good day, bad day?

With  another Australia Day behind us, it might be timely to ask just what the 26th of January has come to mean. And no single answer jumps out.

 

For some the 26th represents the day Captain Arthur Phillip sailed into Sydney Harbour with the First Fleet and colonised this southern land for the British Crown. For them, the penal colony established that day has matured into today’s Australia.

 

For others it represents the day Captain Phillip sailed into Sydney Harbour and stole this southern land from its rightful owners. For them, the wars of conquest started that day have never been resolved.

 

It has become the day many new arrivals choose to become Australian citizens. In this year’s ceremonies, almost 18,000 new Australians swore loyalty to their newly adopted land.

 

Every year on the 26th of January the Governor General announces those Australians honoured for their service to others during the previous year. An Australian of the Year is proclaimed. These rites are mirrored across the nation as State and local honours are announced.

 

And for many, and I would suggest for most, Australia Day represents a chance to celebrate the end of another summer. Visiting cricket teams play their last match, the Australian Open closes with new reigning champions and the last summer vacationers straggle home.

School has started this week. Winter and footie is just around the corner.

 

This year has also seen a well-publicised push to have indigenous Australians finally and formally recognised in the Australia Constitution. From both sides of the political divide, the cry has gone up that now is the time.

 

And I think they’re right. Now is the time. My only worry is that too many special interest groups each with its own agenda will muddy the waters.

 

So my hope is that we can keep it simple and get the job done. Otherwise the necessary referendum will get rejected, and that would leave us on square one on an even longer road than the one we’re currently looking up on this latest Australia Day.

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