OUR SAY: Australia Day’s more than an opportunity for a barbecue

Bit by bit, Australia Day is starting to look like the national days of other countries.

Once upon a time, the anniversary of the arrival of the first British settlers was celebrated in ways that were remarkable solely for not being in any way remarkable. Today, our national day by chance falls on a Friday; until 1994 it was always on a Monday.

Australia Day was routinely moved to the Monday closest to January 26 so everyone could enjoy a long weekend.

Most people would accept it as a day off work, to be spent with family – at a barbecue, perhaps.

How Australian, was the general feeling – a national day where everyone just did nothing.

That is changing, and we’re all better for it.

Indigenous Australians, who have understandably different ideas about the meaning of the anniversary, were probably the first to challenge this unthinking tranquillity.

Their early protests, at Australia's sesquicentenary in 1938, attracted no widespread attention then, though they are rightly celebrated now.

Half a century later, the declaration of 1988 as a year of mourning gained more attention to a cause and a grievance – indigenous disadvantage – that had too long been neglected, and was only just starting to be seriously addressed.

Arguments about whether the Europeans who first arrived in Australia were settlers or invaders can never be conclusive. Partisan positions on either side can become shrill – but they need not, and should not.

What is important is that the Indigenous view of our shared history is fully acknowledged and respected.

If Indigenous Australians began the process, other forces have shaped it. The related trend, multiculturalism, has played a substantial part. Post-war immigration means Australians have backgrounds which span the globe.

By diffusing the loyalty to a non-Australian homeland from Britain alone to the whole world, multiculturalism has made Australia the nation, and the idea, which is common to all.

Friday's citizenship ceremonies across the country reflect the mature confidence of contemporary Australia.

Australians, whether their forebears came here 40 millennia ago, two centuries ago, or five years ago, all have much to be grateful for.


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