The different meanings of Australia Day


Yesterday, we announced we would be running an all day campaign on January 26 called “Unity in Diversity on Australia Day”. The campaign will create images for people to share promoting Australian values such as multiculturalism, religious pluralism, respecting people’s dignity, mateship, volunteering, and commitment to the rule of law. It will also encourage the public to take positive action by reporting hate speech seen on the day as we expect to see a rise in hate content from the far right on this day.

The announcement led to a vigorous debate on our Facebook page on what Australian Day means and celebrates, and on our use of the Australian flag and whether the flag should be changed. People questioned whether OHPI should celebrate Australia Day at all. The objection mainly arose from Indigenous Australians who support OHPI, and by others on their behalf. To the traditional owners, January 26th represents the invasion of Indigenous land and the destruction of much of their life and culture. The Australian flag, which contains the Union Jack of the United Kingdom in the top corner, is viewed by many both inside and outside the Indiengous community as a continued symbol of the British colonisation of Australia.

OHPI and its supporters cannot change the date of our national day nor the national flag. What we can do is reinforce that Australia Day (whatever the date) is about celebrating positive Australian values such multiculturalism, inclusiveness, religious pluralism, mateship, volunteering, and commitment to the rule of law. We can stand strong against efforts by the far-right take ownership of this day, this flag, and of what it means to be Australian.

We recognise that the perspective of the Indigenous community on the meaning of January 26th in unique. Indigenous Australians have every right to campaign for wider awareness of what the date means to them, and why a change of date for Australia would promote reconciliation.

We also recognise that other Australians have other connections to Australia. There is of course the start of British settlement, which is the reason the date was chosen. Beyond this there are the many narrative of waves of immigrants to Australia. The narrative of these ethnically and religiously diverse Australian is neither that of white settlement nor that of the Indigenous Australians, yet Australia Day is for these Australians as well. For many, Australia Day is the day they became citizens of this great country.This year too there will be citizenship ceremonies around the country. There will also be the Australia Day awards honouring great Australians and their contributions to the nation and to many parts of the community. We believe there is much to celebrate about Australia’s national day, regardless of the date.

We are aware that the far-right wants to use our national day and our national flag as a means of division and exclusion. We must stand up against this and support the inclusiveness of Australia Day, highlighting that in 2016 this is a day for all Australians regardless of their background. Just as we support Indigenous Australian’s right to share their story of this day, and to promote the call for a new date for our national day, we hope all Australians including our Indigenous Australian supporters will support our campaign for inclusiveness on this day and the promotion of Australian values of which we can all be proud. Multiple narrative do not need to be mutually exclusive. In supporting each other, we share our experiences as Australians and deepen our understanding of what it means to be Australian.

We will include information on the Indigenous view on January 26 in our campaign. In order to do this we encourage our Indigenous Australian supporters to share their perspectives so we in turn can share some of these voices in our campaign. Our gallery of images for people to share as part of the campaign will include a variety of Australian themes images so that hopefully there is something for everyone to identify with.

Our campaign is particularly important this year as the rising far-right is tries to “reclaim” both the flag and what it means to be Australian. We need to stand united in opposing that. We need to ensure people know the Australian flag stands for Australian values we can all be proud of. If at some point we change the flag, those values will move to a new national flag without any change to our values as Australians. For this reason some of the campaign images will involve our Nationla Flag. Recognising that some Australians have issues with this flag as a national symbol, but will hopefully still wish to support our campaign, some images will not include the national flag. Given the Indigenous Australian view of the day, we welcome the thoughts of Indigneous Australian supporters of OHPI on whether in the context of this campaign images with the Australian Aboriginal Flag and the Torres Strait Islander Flag would be appropriate or inappropriate. We welcome ideas from all regarding the many other symbols of Australia.

We also invite our supporters to share their views on how our National Day should be celebrated: what date, symbols, values and practices should be promoted? We particularly welcome thoughts from people from the Indigenous community. We want to include some of these thoughts in our material for this campaign. Leave your comments on our Facebook post thread, and we will include some in the campaign materials.

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as Australians.