Australia is a country rich in history, diverse in culture and abundant in natural beauty – from the pristine coastlines to the lush bushland and rugged outback.
We are known for our unbreakable Aussie spirit and are often referred to as the ‘lucky country’, attracting people from all over the world to seek out a better life.
It’s undeniable this island nation, which has been home to First Nations people for more than 60,000 years, is steeped in history – both dark and light – which has shaped us into the Australia we are today.
However, the country’s national holiday has become a taboo topic over the years.
While the day is a chance to celebrate all the wonderful things that make us Australia – and Australian – it also raises conversations about what the day symbolises for Indigenous Australians.
Australia Day has become a controversial celebration dividing the nation over the historic and cultural significance of the date. January 26 marks the 1788 landing of the First Fleet and raising of the Union Flag by Arthur Phillip at Sydney Cove in New South Wales.
The National Library of Australia says that prior to 1935, the day was referred to as First Landing Day or Foundation Day, but from 1935 onwards it became known as Australia Day.
The day only became a national public holiday 30 years ago in 1994.
However, many Australians recognise the country’s rich First Nations history that existed for thousands of years before this date, with terms such as ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Survival Day’ now being coined for the public holiday.
This has led to lobbying from organisations, institutions and communities across the country to change the date or boycott the day altogether.
Australian Catholic University sociology lecturer Rachel Busbridge says there has been a general shift towards support for changing the date, with only half of Australians celebrating the day.
“We can see a slow but steady drift towards recognising that the day is a bit problematic for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and if we want to all celebrate together, then that may mean we have to find another day,” Dr Busbridge tells AAP.
A spokesperson from Victorian-based Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance is welcoming the changing public opinion.
“This date isn’t a day of celebration. It marks the beginning of Aboriginal people losing our land, families and lives and it’s a stain on Australia that we celebrate this,” the spokesperson says. “It’s great to see the shift and we hope that more places can listen to the calls for justice.”
This is leading major supermarket chains Woolworths and Aldi to announce they will not sell Australia Day merchandise following a decline in demand.
In a statement to AAP, a Woolworths spokesperson says: “There has been a gradual decline in demand for Australia Day merchandise from our stores over recent years”.
Dr Busbridge says while Australians are becoming less attached to January 26, politicians aren’t, leading some pollies to dominate the culture war in a way that doesn’t reflect public sentiment.
It comes as Opposition Leader Peter Dutton recently condemned the Australia Day supermarket move as an “outrage” born from Woolworths’ “woke agenda” and inferred that most Australians likely thought the same.
“We see a lot of polarisation from that top level of politics (and) it tends to come from the right (conservative) side,” Dr Busbridge says. “But when we look at people’s attitudes on the ground, it’s a lot less polarised. If there’s really no demand for these types of items, then I don’t know the extent to which the politicisation and outrage that comes along is really reflective of public sentiment.”
On the Coast, federal MPs are fighting back against moves to silence or cancel Australia Day.
“Australia Day belongs to the people and should never be the plaything of big governments and big corporates,” Member for Fairfax Ted O’Brien says.
“It’s disappointing to see retail giants Woolworths and Aldi strip away Australia Day merchandise.
“I stand against any attempt to cancel or silence Australian patriotism.
“Australia Day is meant to be a day of unity, to celebrate our liberal democracy, our values of freedom and equality, and to give thanks to our ‘way of life’ which is the envy of the world.”
Member for Fisher Andrew Wallace encourages Australians to take pride in their country on January 26 without fear or vilification.
“We celebrate our Indigenous heritage, we celebrate settlement in this country, and we celebrate our diversity,” Mr Wallace says.
“It is what, together, has made us the greatest country in the world. We aren’t perfect, but it is a positive thing to celebrate all the things that make us uniquely Australian, including the opportunities and freedom we enjoy, and to learn from our past to ensure our future is brighter than ever. We have a right to be proud of our history, to learn from our mistakes and reignite Australia Day as a day for all of us, where we stand proud and united.”
In gratitude, Tomas seeks to ‘pay it forward’
First coming to Australia as a 16-year-old in 1996 on an exchange program, Tomas Passeggi quickly fell in love with the country.
As a migrant with an immense love and respect for the nation, Mr Passeggi acknowledges the opportunities this country has given him while recognising the history that came with colonisation.
Born in Uruguay, Mr Passeggi, his parents and three siblings moved to Australia in 1997.
Now with a prominent role in the Caloundra community, he speaks with My Weekly Preview about what it means to him to live here.
“I do represent a large percentage of Australians: those who have, by choice or by force, migrated here,” he says.
“And it means to be eternally grateful for the opportunities that it has afforded me and my family; thankful, for the safety and certain predictability of what the ‘day to day’ will bring.
“It means being engaged and intentional on pursuing opportunities that will benefit others and playing my role in ‘paying it forward’ and making this a better place for all, as I am a product of many people who did that for us when we faced disadvantage.”
Referring to himself as a ‘guest’ in Australia, Mr Passeggi says that while he enjoys “the privileges and the benefits of a relatively wealthy and safe society”, he is aware that is not the case for many First Nations people.
“Living in Australia, for me is holding that tension of gratitude and guilt, and doing what I can to ameliorate the negative effects of colonisation,” he says.
First Nations art on display
Explore a collection of artworks by local First Nations group Blak Creatives at the Maleny Library Artspace from now until January 31.
Blak Creatives is a group of Sunshine Coast artists and cultural practitioners. Supported by the Munimba-ja team, the group focuses on arts business development, informal mentorship and networking, contemporary urban Indigenous practice development, plus cultural protocol, industry development and pathways for emerging and mid-career artists. The exhibition is free at the Maleny Library Artspace, located at 5 Coral Street.
For more information, visit library.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au.