Australian Flag Flying High. Source: John Leech, photographer at Captured This Australia.
Australia Day is Australia’s much loved national holiday, where over half the population choose to take part in organised celebrations of some sort. The date, Jan. 26 , commemorates the 1788 raising of the flag of Great Britain. Port Jackson (later Sydney Cove) was proclaimed a colonial outpost on this day. It is widely celebrated as a day where Australians reflect on and appreciate life here, by coming together with their fellow citizens and enjoying iconic Australian activities such as barbeques in the backyard or cricket at the park.
For others, the day represents acceptance into a new land, where they are sworn in as citizens. For these people, the day is something long-awaited. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has thrown a thong in the works, however, by announcing a controversial new dress code for citizenship ceremonies which will, from 2020 onwards, prohibit aspiring citizens from dressing in shorts, thongs (Australian for sandals) or other casual-wear at the ceremony. This has prompted outrage, and been declared as unAustralian.
Underlying the celebration, however, runs an undercurrent of deep historic wounds inflicted on the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. For them, the day represents the start of the occupation of their lands and persecution of their people.
Gamilaroi and Torres Strait Islander Nakkiah Lui, a playwright and actress, expressed why she considers the day a Day of Mourning rather than celebration, “We mourn the declaration of Australia as terra nullius (land that belongs to no one) as well as those who have died in massacres, those who were dispossessed of their land and homes, those who were denied their humanity, those who were shackled, beaten, sent to prison camps, and made to live in reserves,” they said in a letter to the Guardian.
While most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities still feel disconnected and unacknowledged by the majority of the population, they express a desire to move forward as one nation. While they support a celebration of Australia, many feel the date should be changed to one that has positive meaning for and is inclusive of all Australians.