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Australia Day

Algernon Talmage / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Few would argue with the idea of having a public holiday to celebrate Australia’s nationhood. But attaching that holiday to the day that the First Fleet landed in Australia and claimed sovereignty over the eastern seaboard is much more debatable. Yet that linking of Australia Day with the landing of the First Fleet in 1788 has been in place since the 1930s. The state of Victoria adopted 26 January as Australia Day in 1931 and by 1935 all of the other Australian states and territories had followed suit.

On Australia Day it is natural to think about Australia’s origins and history. And sadly the chosen day is one that many Indigenous people think of as Invasion Day, or Mourning Day, or Survival Day, the latter because –– against the odds and the new settlers’ perceptions –– the Aboriginal people survived.

Might an alternative date to celebrate Australia Day be more palatable? Many people think so. Maybe a better celebration date would be the coming together of the various colonies into a Federation on 1 January 1901. However, this date is problematic for at least one very important reason: we all love our public holidays and wouldn’t want to see the New Year’s Day public holiday conflated with Australia Day.

So what to do? One idea would be to pick a time of the year that is short of public holidays and make that Australia Day. On this day, we could celebrate a history of reconciliation, community, multiculturalism.

For me Australia Day should also be a day of celebration of country and stewardship of this earth and a recognition of the need to look after it. This would reflect the goals of the Indigenous population – the First Australians.

For many of us, Australia Day in 2020 was especially poignant, for much of our country was on fire and issues of climate change were in the forefront of eople’s minds. And many of us were wondering how Aboriginal land management practices might be better understood by our policy makers.

Australia Day is also a celebration of all that has been good about this country – the multiculturalism, the sense of community, and the welcoming of displaced peoples after wars.

My husband, a British citizen by birth, was naturalised on Australia Day. In a moving ceremony in Canberra some years ago, he was one of a number of people from remarkably disparate countries who were welcomed as new citizens.

As well as being a British citizen, I’m a fourth generation Australian, my ancestors having arrived on the eastern seaboard of Australia in the late nineteenth century, prior to Federation. In this sense, my new novel, The Philosopher’s Daughters reflects my family history.

The novel is a tale of two very different sisters, who were educated in London by their philosopher father. The sisters’ 1890s voyage from London to the remote outback of Australia becomes a journey of self-discovery, set against a landscape of wild beauty and a story of savage dispossession. In their very different ways the sisters develop a great affinity for the country and a sympathy for the original inhabitants who were displaced so harshly without any treaty.

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