In a bold move which has received both praise and cries of being ‘unAustralian’, the The City of Fremantle has cancelled its Australia Day festivities, instead celebrating its National Day on 28 January.
Its new family-friendly event, labelled “One Day” will replace the traditional fireworks display and include an impressive list of performances from artists including Dan Sultan, Mama Kin and John Butler.
The City of Fremantle said in its release it “wanted to celebrate being Australian in a way that included all Australians and we believe moving away from this date was more culturally inclusive and more in line with Fremantle’s values.”
Will other cities start to follow suit in solidarity with the Indigenous community? I hope so.
In 2009, when Aboriginal leader Mick Dodson was named Australian of the Year, he encouraged a national debate on changing the date of Australia Day, saying using January 26 as Australia Day alienates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“Invasion was the start of these problems. There will be lifetimes, even generations, that will keep feeling the long-term effects of these things. These issues are the by-product of what Australia Day represents”
Rodney Dillon, Amnesty International’s Indigenous Rights Advisor
Recently the debate has picked up steam, with Triple J revealing it had been considering shifting its music poll, The Hottest 100, away from 26 January. A change.org “change the date of the Hottest 100” petition received almost 5,000 signatures calling for this.
What it means for the Indigenous people
Rodney Dillon, Amnesty International’s Indigenous Rights Advisor and proud Palawa man says that Australia Day is always hard for his people.
“Survival for us is about taking steps to address the consequences of invasion that we still face today. We’ve got health issues, scars from not healing, substance abuse, too many of our people are in prison, too many of our kids are in care, and not enough of our kids are getting educated. Governments are still trying to close communities and move people off their land.
“Invasion was the start of these problems. There will be lifetimes, even generations, that will keep feeling the long-term effects of these things. These issues are the by-product of what Australia Day represents.”
Tammy Solonec, Amnesty Australia’s Indigenous Rights Manager says these shifts in public opinion could influence the Australia-Day debate.
“Changing the date of Australia Day is possible, she said. “We only have to look to the USA for inspiration, where the similarly insensitive ‘Columbus Day’ is being reclaimed as ‘Indigenous People’s Day’. Last month, Vermont Gov. Peter Schumlin signed an executive proclamation marking the day as Indigenous People’s Day. Over 27 other US cities also celebrate Native American history on this day.”
However, in an interview with radio station 3AW, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who acknowledged the controversy surrounding Australia Day, kept to his previous position: “Let’s stick with Australia Day on the 26th”.
Find out more about Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous justice campaign “Community is Everything”.