Maggie Cooper says it's time to change the date.
Maggie Cooper says it's time to change the date. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Australia Day date is 'shameful, embarrassing': OPINION

A NEIGHBOUR dropped by unexpectedly on Friday night and, as we chatted over a glass of wine, I mentioned I could smell a bushfire.

She wasn't born in Australia; she moved here from South Africa via the UK a couple of years ago and therefore, unlike me, hadn't grown up with the distinctive odour and ventured the idea that perhaps it was just a barbecue.

I was (sadly) right; bushfire smoke is, for many of us, the smell of an Australian summer.

Equally inevitable in January is the (also fiery) debate over the date on which we celebrate Australia Day.

This is not the first time I've written about the subject in this column; in fact, from memory, it's about the sixth occasion. But as we still haven't done anything to fix what is now a shameful and embarrassing issue, here I go again. Apologies to those who are of the same opinion and would rather not revisit the topic.

I stopped celebrating our "national” day back in 2008; my personal veto stemmed from spending part of January 26 that year at Belongil Beach. What could be more Australian than thong-throwing contests and a sausage sizzle at Byron Bay? Well, apparently, staggering drunk along the sand wrapped in a flag thoughtfully supplied by breweries with every purchase of a slab of coldies is now more Australian. It was a ghastly display of jingoism and misguided patriotism, right up there with tattoos of the Southern Cross on the necks of those who are issuing a defiant challenge to Australians not born in this country to "love it or leave”.

Australia Day has only been celebrated on January 26 since 1994. A photographic montage recently circulated online by members of the Community Elders of the Wiradyuri nation - who hail from the Bathurst region of NSW - shows a series of historic commemorative lapel pins showing the dates as being just about any except January 26; days in July and August were common.

Why are we so attached to this date now? Is it the same bottom-lip-protruding defiance displayed so shamefully by John Howard who refused to say the word "Sorry” for so many years? Kevin Rudd managed to say it and no white Australian lost their land or their home as a result.

Moving the date is a gesture that would mean so much to the people of our First Nation, and would not affect the rest of us one tiny bit. According to a December survey by Australian think tank Research Now, 56 per cent of Australians don't care when Australia Day is held, and 70 per cent would prefer a date not associated with the First Fleet.

We've taken so much from the custodians of this land; can we not give them this?



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