Controversy over Australia’s national day . . .
Australia Day takes place annually on January 26, the date in 1788 on which British settlers raised the British flag in Sydney Cove, creating the first permanent European settlement in Australia, a penal colony. Violent conflict between colonists and Indigenous peoples soon followed as Europeans took possession of land. Today, Indigenous Australians, or Aborigines, experience the lowest economic, social, and educational outcomes in the country, are disproportionally incarcerated and over-represented as crime victims. This year witnessed record protests in major Australian cities calling for a change to the date on which Australia Day is celebrated, as many Indigenous Australians mark it as a day of mourning.
Invasion Day, pay the rent, day of mourning . . .
At this year’s protests, Indigenous Australians emphasized what they have lost through 230 years of colonization, dispossession, and discrimination. The oft-heard concept ‘pay the rent,’ which first became popular in the 1970s, is a rallying call to compensate Indigenous Australians for the occupation of land and to recognize Aboriginal sovereignty. Australia’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Ken Wyatt, the first Indigenous Australian to hold the position, recently stated he felt that Australia Day, which some refer to as 'Invasion Day,' should remain on January 26, but should mark the “good and the bad” of Australian history. And while Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Australia Day address acknowledged that Australians are “people of an ancient land, with ancient stories, drawing on an ancient culture,” he placed greater emphasis on sacrifices in the face of the recent devastating bushfires than on reconciliation.
National days contested . . .
Australia is not alone in having the meaning, symbolism, and significance of a national day contested on account of the treatment of Indigenous populations by colonists. While Columbus Day is a federally-recognized public holiday in the U.S., at least eight American states and over 100 cities observe it as Indigenous Peoples Day. New Zealand’s Waitangi Day is frequently a national touchstone around which Indigenous Maori and their supporters draw attention to contemporary and historic discrimination and dispossession. In Canada, National Indigenous Peoples Day – not a public holiday – is celebrated on June 21, ten days before Canada Day.
- The Guardian: 'Pay the rent': Invasion Day rallies around Australia protest against 26 January celebrations
- Nine News Australia: Indigenous Australians protest ‘Invasion Day’
- The Sydney Morning Herald: Indigenous history must be at centre of Australia Day