Blog

Should we celebrate Australia Day?

By: Dr Lynda Kelly, Category: At The Museum, Date: 23 Dec 2010

On the 23rd January 2011, at 2.30pm, the Museum will host an Australia Day Debate. You can listen to our speakers, Sam Watson and Nigel Parbury, debate whether the 26th January is the most appropriate date to celebrate our national identity. You will also have the opportunity to ask them your own questions. 

Nigel Parbury

 © Vicki Barton

 If you would like to attend this free event please register by email or phone (02) 9320-6163. Normal admission prices apply if you would also like to visit the museum's exhibitions.

Issues to be raised regarding the date include:

  • January 26th does not celebrate the establishment of Australia as a country, but marks the foundation of the British colony of New South Wales.
  • Most nations celebrate their national day on the date of independence from their colonial power, not the day of colonisation.
  • The date has negative associations for all Australians, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. It marks the start of dispossession and discrimination of Indigenous Australians and the arrival of convicts in chains.
  • A different date would be a significant symbolic act towards reconciliation.
  • Australia Day now is unrecognisable from the past: more and more, ambassadors, citizenship ceremonies and welcome to country pay respect to Aboriginal Australia.
  • 26th January is marked by Aboriginal celebrations across the country - Invasion Day, Survival Day, the Woggan-ma-gule mourning ceremony in the Botanical Gardens; it reminds us all of what happened – and celebrates the flowering of Aboriginal spirituality, culture and creativity
  • We must keep working to change the meaning of Australia Day. It would take about a hundred years to agree on a new date – reconciliation would be quicker

Sam Watson is currently the deputy director of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit of the University of Queensland. He is a strong advocate for Aboriginal cultural and social issues. He was awarded the Indigenous Writer of the Year Award in 1991 for his novel, The Kadaitcha Sung. Through his work at the Brisbane Aboriginal Legal Service in the early nineties, Watson was involved in implementing the findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. He wrote and produced the wildly acclaimed film, Black Man Down, a fictionalised exploration of the commission's findings.

Nigel Parbury graduated in Latin and Fine Arts at Sydney University. He has been a teacher, taxi driver and radio operator. He wrote and illustrated Survival: A History of Aboriginal Life in New South Wales (NSW Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, 1986). He has worked in Aboriginal education for 22 years, the Aboriginal Education Unit, then the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) through the 1990s. He worked on Teaching the Teachers and Teaching Aboriginal Studies and edited the school musical-resource kit 1788: The Great South Land. More about Nigel Parbury.