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Australia Celebrates National Day; Protests Persist

Indigenous groups are renewing their efforts to change the date of Australia Day.

The national holiday, celebrated Jan. 26, commemorates the arrival of European settlers to Australia more than 230 years ago. But many Aboriginal people believe it marks a time when their lands were stolen and their communities pushed into poverty and disadvantage that persist to this day.

Australia Day stirs a heated debate about cultural identity and history. Many Indigenous people refer to Jan. 26 as “Invasion Day” when, in 1788, the first fleet of British ships arrived in Sydney harbor.

There is a campaign to change the date. One suggestion is May 9, to acknowledge when Australia’s Federal Parliament first sat in 1901.

​‘A difficult day’

Brooke Boney, the first Indigenous TV presenter on Australia’s popular Today program, believes the current date is insensitive.

“I cannot separate the 26th of January from the fact that my brothers are more likely to go to jail than they are to go to school, or that my little sisters or my mum are more likely to be beaten and raped than anyone else’s sisters or mum and that started from that day,” Boney said. 

“So for me it is a difficult day, and I do not want to celebrate it because that is the day that it changed for us, you know. That is the sort of beginning of what some people would say is the end, that is the turning point,” she added.

Holiday to honor Aboriginal culture

Despite a vocal campaign, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said he has no plans to change the date of Australia Day. However, he has said there could be another national holiday to recognize Aboriginal culture.

“Australia day is the 26th January,” he said. “That was the day that Australia’s course changed forever. It was 60,000 years of Indigenous history before that, and modern Australia effectively started on that day. You cannot change that. That is just what happened. That is just a fact, and I want Australia Day to be even more so a day when all Australians can come together, and so I am open to a chat with the Australian people about how we can better acknowledge indigenous Australians and our Indigenous peoples.”

Day of celebration

For many Australians their national day is a time to celebrate their modern history with barbecues, concerts and camel races.

More than half of all Australians participate in events organized by state governments, local councils and community groups. More than 16,000 migrants become citizens on Australia Day.

It has been celebrated since 1935.

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