On the 80th anniversary of the first Day of Mourning, it seems that more Australians than ever are open to changing the date of Australia Day.
While public debate about the history and significance of January 26 has intensified this year, there is a long history of protest leading us to this point.
On 26 January 1938, the Aborigines Progressive Association declared the date a Day of Mourning at an historic civil rights protest at the Australian Hall in Sydney.
Another historic protest was held in 1988 – on the bicentennial year of the arrival of the First Fleet – when 40,000 people participated in an ‘Invasion Day’ march to raise awareness that “white Australia has a black history”.
All these years later, changing the date remains a relatively simple task that would have an immense symbolic impact in demonstrating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that the broader community wants a national day where all Australians can celebrate together.
Reconciliation Australia CEO Karen Mundine said January 26 was a difficult date for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and could not be a unifying national day of celebration.
“It is the date of the founding of the penal colony of NSW, and it marks the commencement of a long history of dispossession and trauma for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
Ms Mundine said the growing number of Australians supporting the movement to change the date were not only acknowledging the truth of our shared history but also expressing a desire to set things right.
“This January 26, Reconciliation Australia acknowledges the widespread and growing support for a change to Australia’s national day,” she said.
“The broader community is listening to the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and they want to reconcile the wrongs of the past and create a better future for all Australians.”
“This support signals the strengthening of historical acceptance, one of the five dimensions of national reconciliation. As the dimensions are interrelated, this development will influence positive change in the remaining four – race relations, institutional integrity, equality and equity, and unity.”
Image: Man magazine, HORNER2.J03.BW. Courtesy AIATSIS. Protesters on Australia Day 1938. From left: William Ferguson, Jack Kinchela, Isaac Ingram, Doris Williams, Esther Ingram, Arthur Williams, Phillip Ingram, Louisa Agnes Ingram, holding daughter Olive Ingram, Jack Patten, unknown.