Since 1994, Australia Day has been celebrated nationally on 26 January, the day when white settlers first arrived in Australia.
But for many Indigenous Australians, it is a day that marks the dispossession, bloodshed and genocide of Aboriginal people.
A growing number of voices in the Australian community are calling for Australia Day to be moved from 26 January. The #ChangeTheDate movement is picking up steam on social media and people are taking to the streets to express their support for an alternative date to hold national celebrations.
On Thursday, an estimated 50,000 people gathered in the Melbourne CBD for an ‘Invasion Day’ rally. Similar protests took place in major cities in Australia.
The Fremantle Council moved its Australia Day celebrations to 28 January following consultations with local Indigenous elders. Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt defended the decision on ABC’s 7:30 program, arguing that Australia did not start in 1788.
This is a view echoed by Uniting Church president Stuart McMillan, who acknowledged the suffering First Peoples faced as a result of colonisation in his Survival Day message.
“Our heritage as a nation began long before 1788. It began at creation,” he said.
“I am committed to honouring First Peoples as sovereign over these lands and waters, to recognising our nation’s brutal history and to a negotiated just terms way forward for us as a mature nation.”
Mr McMillan said Survival Day can also be an opportunity to celebrate the courage and resilience of First Peoples and pray for justice and reconciliation.
“The First Peoples are the oldest living culture on the planet and that is something to celebrate,” he said.
“So on 26 January I’ll celebrate the survival of my friends, their ancient languages, law and culture.
“I’ll mourn the hundreds of thousands of lives lost through violent conflict and colonisation. I’ll mourn the stolen generations’ disconnection from their heritage.”
While there is growing momentum towards changing the date for Australia Day, there remains strong resistance from the federal government and sections of the Australian community.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his government will not support a change in Australia Day, arguing there are better ways to advance reconciliation, such as through constitutional recognition. Meanwhile his deputy, Barnaby Joyce, said those who want to change Australia Day should “crawl under a rock and hide for a little bit.”
On this week’s Friday Forum: Should Australia Day be moved to another date?
Image: Marie McInerney/Twitter