As Australia Day 2017 looms, the “Change The Date” movement is gaining momentum—with some strong voices in Australia’s Christian community getting behind it.
The push to change the date of Australia Day dates back to the 1980s, and is born out of respect for Australia’s indigenous community.
Many of them see January 26 as a date of sadness and instead call it “Invasion Day”, because of the way they were treated as less than human or even non-existent, when white Australia first settled the Great South Land.
If your primary school history lessons have become a little blurred, here’s a quick refresher.
The Uncomfortable History of Australia’s Settlement
January 26, 1788 was the day when Governor Arthur Phillip landed in what is now Port Jackson, Sydney, and planted a British flag in the soil to ‘took possession’ of the land for the Commonwealth.
If he had followed European law, he should have gained permission from the native landowners first, and then paid them, before settling.
But he went ahead and took possession anyway: “Instead of admitting that it was invading land that belonged to Aboriginal people, Britain acted as it were settling an empty land.” (TreatyRepublic.net)
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What is now recognised by many as an invasion rather than a settlement, was never really righted by the British authorities.
Celebrate Australia, Yes – But on a Different Day
That’s why many prominent Aboriginal leaders want to see Australia Day celebrated on a different date.
Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue first suggested the idea in 1984 when she was Australian of the Year. And commentator Warren Mundine wrote this week that “most indigenous people will never celebrate January 26, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to celebrate Australia”.
A quick search on social media reveals many of the Australian voices getting behind the #changethedate movement. Among of them is the Christian justice activist Jarrod McKenna, who tweeted that “If Australia Day is the celebration of a nation and not the celebration of colonisation, #changethedate!”
Christian Support for Change the Date Campaign
Another supporter for the Change the Date campaign is Brooke Prentis, Aboriginal spokesperson for the Christian justice organisation Common Grace. In a blog article this week Brooke wrote that while she loves celebrating Australia and its culture as much as anyone else, she feels conflicted on January 26.
“Many of us that would like to celebrate this nation. But we can’t do that on the 26th of January. We can’t ignore what it means in our history.”
“For us, on the 26 January we will be commemorating, not celebrating,” she writes. “We will be commemorating losses – loss of land, loss of language, loss of life. Let us remember in 1788 it is estimated there were 1,000,000 Aboriginal people across this land and by the early 1900s that number had dropped to between 30,000 and 90,000 people. Our land, our Australia, is drenched in the blood of Aboriginal peoples where genocide, massacres, rape and theft occurred.”
She believes that moving the date is a matter not just for indigenous people, but for Christians as well, as Jesus was a great champion for justice.
“Local church exists in community and there are Aboriginal people in every suburb of Australia,” she said, “so as Christians and as the church what I’d like to see is that we recognise that Aboriginal people are mourning and grieving and conflicted on this day.
“There are people hurting in the community on the 26th of January and throughout the year. We should take time to acknowledge that, lament, and pray about that.”
Church Services to Recognise Aboriginal Injustice
Watch: Safina Stewart explains the indigenous experience around Australia Day.
A series of “Acknowledgement Services” will be held at churches in Australia’s capital cities this week to recognise the injustices Aboriginal Australians have experienced, and promote reconciliation.
Brooke encourages all Australians to listen to the views of Aboriginal people around Australia Day.
“Try to have a conversation with Aboriginal people or read articles by Aboriginal journalists,” she says. “We struggle with this date and there are many of us that would like to celebrate the diversity of this nation. But we can’t do that on the 26th of January. We can’t ignore what it means in our history.
“We still need to set it aside to understand that Aboriginal peoples were affected on that day and that the landscape of Australia changed. My personal opinion is to keep January 26 as a commemoration date, and find a different date to celebrate.”