Melbourne Votes to Move Australia Day — Should the Rest of the Country Follow Suit?

Australia Day and Invasion Day currently take place on the same date. This has always been a contentious and tragic moment in Australia’s history, although ‘we’ often like to pretend otherwise.

Nevertheless, most councils have chosen to ignore the complexities of this issue or simply paper over the growing cracks. Many pretend that Australia Day is just a chill vibe for all, although the debate grows more unignorable each year. Some have taken to including greater Indigenous recognition and events in their Australia Day celebrations, all the while missing the point that celebration on the date itself is a big part of the issue.  

Melbourne City Council, however, has stepped up to the plate and put a vote to the public over the celebration of Australia Day on January 26th. With the results tallied, nearly 60% have said that they want the celebrations shifted. 

Melbourne Might Stop Celebrating Australia Day

Back in July, Melbourne City Councillors voted to review the city’s approach to January 26. This review set out to investigate how the city interacted with events and its community on that day, with consideration being given to the possibility of moving the Australia Day date. 

“I recognise that for many people celebrating Australia Day on the 26th of January is important, but there is a changing sentiment around celebrating what it means to be Australian on that day,” said the Lord Mayor Sally Capp at the time.

“I know from discussions with Traditional Owners that many of them see this as a really important aspect of how we can better respect and reflect their ancient culture and history.”

A survey has since been conducted of 1,600 residents, with 59.9% of the respondents saying that they wanted the date moved within the next decade.

A Melbourne City Council spokesperson has said that the council consulted with five traditional owner organisations that make up the Eastern Kulin. All of them support changing the date.

“If endorsed, Council will continue to issue permits for events delivered by the State Government and other organisations on Australia Day, while supporting activities that acknowledge First Nations perspectives of 26 January,” the city said in a statement.

“The City of Melbourne is working to advance reconciliation and govern with Aboriginal peoples, however any decision to change the date must be made at a Federal Government level.”

The review being conducted is hoping to make a decision for the coming year’s Australia Day celebrations.

How Are Folks Reacting to This Australia Day News?

Marcus Stewart, the First Peoples’ Assembly co-chair and Taungurung man, is one of many different individuals who has welcomed this decision. He stated: “It’s easy to criticise that it’s a small step, it’s not going to do anything — small things matter and it’s about momentum and moving forward.”

Laura Thompson, the CEO of Clothing the Gaps and Gunditjmara women, also supported Melbourne changing the date. As she told The Age, “When councils take this local leadership, I think it’s really important because I think at the moment, we’ve seen a lack of federal leadership on this issue.”

Related: Australia Day — Polls Find Growing Support to Change the Date 

Related: Actor Ben Lawson’s Rousing Poem Points Out What’s Wrong With Australia Day

Why Should We Change Australia Day’s Date?

Despite what some antiquated history books might say, Australia wasn’t settled when the First Fleet arrived on January 26, 1788. It was already home to a vibrant plethora of First Nations peoples with their own unique languages, cultures, farming practices, art forms, and ways of celebrating humanity. These folks weren’t embraced or listened to when the First Fleet landed. Instead, their homes were stolen from them and they were killed in a series of brutal attempted genocides. 

Therefore, January 26 wasn’t a day of cultural exchange. It was a day where the rich and powerful tried to crush what they refused to understand. It is not a date worthy of a party.

“Like other Australians, I enjoy a public holiday and like to celebrate. But as an Aboriginal person, 26 January is a painful and alienating day,” said Tammy Solonec, Amnesty Australia’s Indigenous Rights Manager and proud Nigena woman. “It marks the start of the colonisation and the suffering of our people — it is no celebration for us.”

Additionally, January 26 has been a day First Nations peoples have been using to discuss systemic injustices for a very long time. Seriously, here’s a notice about this day from 1938:

While the notion might take a few more years to catch on in other parts of the country, several councils have already moved ahead with the idea. Yarra Council in Melbourne’s east, and Darebin Council in Melbourne’s north scrapped their January 26th celebrations in 2017.

At the time, then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the move as “an attack on Australia Day” (well, yeah) and banned both councils from holding citizenship ceremonies on the date.

With the movement spreading, it seems like Melbourne could go ahead and change the date it celebrates Australia Day. Whether the rest of the country will follow suit anytime soon remains to be seen.

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