In depth: What is the Change the Date debate in Australia?
Every year around January 26, a debate rages in Australia… Change the Date. Australia Day, on 26 January, commemorates the day in 1788 when Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the First Fleet of 11 British ships, arrived at Sydney Cove to signal the birth of the colony. But many people also call it “Invasion Day” or “Survival Day” as it marks the beginning of dispossession of the continent’s indigenous people.
The First Fleet
The First Fleet refers to 11 ships that left Portsmouth in 1787 with over 1480 people of British, African, American and French origin, most of which were convicts. The aim was to find a convict settlement colony. Though the fleet of ships arrived at Botany Bay on Australia’s east coast on January 18, 1788, the commander of this fleet, Captain Arthur Philip, rejected Botany Bay and decided to take the fleet further ahead to Port Jackson (present-day Sydney). Hence Sydney was chosen as the site for the new colony after the fleet arrived there a few days later, on January 26, 1788.
The Aboriginal debate
On May 9 in 1901, Australia’s first parliament was opened and the six British colonies united to form the Commonwealth of Australia. But the arrival of the convicts and officers did not prove good for the original inhabitants of the continent. The Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders — also called the First Australians as they are the original residents of the country — think that Australia Day celebrates the beginning of the time when they suffered massacres, land theft, and oppression by the new arrivals. This day is also marked by the fact that colonists took over their lands and the First Australians maintain that their people continue to suffer the effects of colonisation and racism.
Proud first fleeters
However, not everyone is opposed to the idea of celebrating Australia Day. For quite some time now, Australians have started taking pride in the fact that they’re of convict origin. The First Fleet monument is located in the state of New South Wales and is engraved with the names of all the new arrivals. They contend that the new arrivals and establishment of colonies developed Australia, made it modern and industrially advanced.
However, there’s also a group which thinks that Australia Day should be abolished as a national holiday. Instead of celebrating a day of victory for one and oppression for another, this group wants the country to work more for the upliftment of the indigenous people. When that day comes, Australia can celebrate it as a day to acknowledge equality for all of its residents.