I Support Change the Date, but I Don’t Support #ChangeTheDate
A few days ago, I was walking with my parents and turned to them and said, “I’m really stressed.”
“Why?” Mum asked.
I replied, “I’m stressed about whether or not I should put up a post on Saturday about Australia Day.”
What a thing to be stressed about.
But let me explain.
“Change the Date” is such a conflicting topic for me. On one hand, I think that it is horrible to celebrate the day that colonisers forced their way onto land which was already inhabited by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. But I also want a day to celebrate the country my ancestors have created their life in.
I am not from Australian heritage. None of my direct ancestors were living in Australia before the 20th century. Our whole family recognises that the invasion of Aboriginal land was wrong, but we want to be able to celebrate that this country is the place that gave us safety, freedom and hope.
Our family escaped wars, destitute lifestyles and struggle and hardship to come to this country to provide a prosperous future for generations to come. For that, I am incredibly grateful, and I believe there should be a day to come together to celebrate this ‘Australian dream’ with the ancestors of the people who were here originally, the ancestors of the people who created the government, built cities and created the Australia we know now and the ancestors of the people who are in the same situation as my family.
While January 26 is not the right day, I do not agree with people who say there should be no Australia Day at all because we cannot let our future be so heavily dictated by our past.
I am a solution-focused person. I like to be able to identify a problem and find a solution immediately. What happened in 1788 was undeniably wrong beyond words. I come from Croatian descent and have heard the stories of the genocides committed against our people less than 30 years ago. But we cannot change what happened. Dr Emmett Brown isn’t here to help us with this one.
All we can do is look forward. I agree we should change the date, but I disagree that it should be the narrative. We shouldn’t be focusing on change the date. We should be focusing on a meaningful treaty with a definite action plan to close the gap and to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to increase education to non-Indigenous Australians about the culture of the original dwellers of the Australian land.
Once we have a treaty, we should follow New Zealand’s lead and celebrate our treaty day. Celebrate what is unique about Australia, both the original culture and the new cultures which have been welcomed. We can still celebrate an Australia Day also — on the anniversary of federation on January 1st (and no need to take an extra public holiday given that we will have our treaty day too).
The idea of changing the date is important, but we need to be focusing on tangible progress. A treaty will make a real difference as well as give us a date on which we can mostly agree (there will always be a couple opposed to the idea). Of course, I am a huge advocate for keeping treaty day in summer because I like the idea of being able to celebrate what it means to be Australian in a swimsuit and thongs by the nearest body of water, enjoying the day with a BBQ of some kind… and the best time to do that is, of course, in summer.
It has been almost 11 years since Kevin Rudd’s formal apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It’s time to back that up with real action. And I’m not talking about another throw away symbolic gesture like changing the date — although it is an important concept — I’m talking about a real plan which covers every aspect of life for Indigenous Australians.
There’s no surprise when I say I believe this plan is already laid out for us in the United Nations’ 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development and their associated 169 targets which can be measured against 232 indicators. The goals cover everything from poverty alleviation to health and nutrition to education to gender equality to employment to incarceration. Every single aspect of life is addressed.
So it’s time, Australia. It’s time we make treaty. It’s time we make a real plan, not just some symbolic gesture with no real outcome. It’s time we set ourselves goals and targets which can be achieved within a given timeframe to ensure that we are leaving no one behind — especially the original inhabitants of this land.
What will I be doing this Australia Day? I’m celebrating my family. I’m celebrating the sacrifices they made to give their offspring and future generations a better life. I’m celebrating the fact that we have been given opportunities to prosper, to live safely and to be happy. But I am not forgetting the people who lost loved ones on this day 231 years ago. I am not forgetting that the people who should have asked to enter into a peaceful coexistence are often marginalised in society. And I am hoping that we can initiate positive actions towards a better future through recognising the past mistakes but not letting them dictate what lies ahead.
This article merely expresses my opinions. I do not claim that my opinion is the right one. This article is intended as a conversation starter, and I encourage people to engage with me, so I can learn more. I especially want to hear from people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent as I believe their voice in this debate is the most important.