Every year my friends and I, boom box on our shoulders, would go from house to house dressed in board shorts, singlets and pluggers variously emblazoned in the Australian Flag. We would sing, drink, barbecue, watch fireworks and drink some more. Any excuse to drink far too much with my friends really - and this excuse was delivered with a public holiday, a nationalistic fervour, and ads for lamb. I loved it - blissfully ignorant to why we did it all on January 26th, something to do with when the country started or something - who cares, can you turn the radio up?
January 26th is the anniversary of the first fleet of British ships arriving on traditional Gadigal land in what is now known as Sydney and was originally known as First Fleet Day. For the other colonies the first fleet was not so significant, so it was only really celebrated in New South Wales. It sort of makes sense in those early days that they would celebrate their arrival. Like when you celebrate owning your own home for the first few years. Of course this particular home was stolen, so in fact January 26th marks the beginning of one of the great armed robberies. We're literally celebrating stolen goods. Sort of like a Birthday Sale at a Cash Converters. Who's up for a beer?
Not to mention that in the years since, Indigenous Australians have been classed as flora and fauna, refused the vote, stolen from their families as children, entirely and purposely killed off in some parts, wiped out by foreign disease such as smallpox in others, been incarcerated in higher numbers and educated in lower, had lands taken from them and that’s just the start of crimes in the past. Shall I throw another shrimp on the barbie?
Imagine the Miss Universe winner dropping in on that poor woman who the host told had won - thinking they might polish the tiara together.
Imagine if your ex stopped by to celebrate their new lover once a year - on the day they cheated on you. And then their kids kept doing it after they’d died.
I mean imagine if Turkey celebrated ANZAC day as their national day. If the day marking Australia's biggest defeat was the day everyone ate kebabs and watched fireworks and advertised baklava and wore Turkish flags as capes and gave out Turk of the Year awards. Imagine if that was their day of revelry.
Perhaps we could celebrate on January 1st, the day Australia federated. Or if we don't like January 1st (less public holidays I hear some yell - as if that's an equal problem), perhaps sorry day is a moment we moved forward. Perhaps if we become a republic that day will automatically supersede it. Perhaps May 3rd. That’s a good day. Or Feb 21st. Or sometime in November. Literally any other day than the first day of invasion.
Because on a very basic level, if Australia Day is to bring us all together it cannot be a day that drives us apart.