Because it was “first”, the day of British settlement in New South Wales, 26 January, became the default date of choice for a national day (thank you, Lachlan Macquarie, Henry Parkes, and John Howard, amongst other white male elites). But what if we don’t just fall in with the “first in, best dressed” way of operating?
We could move the National Day from 26 January, when a claim was made for British sovereignty over the eastern half of the continent (1788), to 7 February, the actual legal establishment of the Colony of New South Wales (in 1788, when Arthur Philip made the formal proclamation). But that is still “first in, best dressed”. Or perhaps to 29 April, the day (in 1770) when Cook and his crew actually set foot on the shores of Stingray Bay (later dubbed Botany Bay). Ummm …. I think not.
So perhaps we need to look for another significant date in our history. We could let the west take the lead, and recognise that Europeans were visiting and claiming the western part of the continent long before the British came to the east. So we could adopt 26 October, in recognition that this was the day (in 1616) when Dirk Hartog set foot on Terra Australia. Or, if not, perhaps 1 June, Foundation Day in WA, for the establishment of the Swan River Colony (1829). Could this be our national day?
Or maybe 28 December, which is Proclamation Day in South Australia, recalling the proclamation of the Province of South Australia. No convicts there, so we can hold our heads high.
Or perhaps a few weeks earlier on 16 December, which was when the Colony of New Zealand was chartered and split from the Colony of New South Wales (in 1840). That way, we could clearly distinguish ourselves from the way they treated their indigenous people.
No? Well, maybe we let Victoria take the lead, and adopt 1 July, the day (in 1851) when the Colony of Victoria was established. Or, to be truly faithful to our constitutional monarchy, perhaps 6 June, the day (in 1859) when the Colony of Queensland was proclaimed. There, surely either one of those would keep the British loyalists happy!
Or should we just hand over to the Taswegians and adopt 24 November, which was for some time Regatta Day in Tasmania, celebrating the landing of Abel Tasman in 1642 and its separation from New South Wales in 1825 (although Regatta Day is now celebrated in February, and Tasman actually landed on 1 December, and Tasmania was separated from NSW on 3 December). Thanks, Tassies, that certainly helps!!!
Right, then. What about 9 May, when Parliament first sat in Canberra (in 1927)? Or 13 June, when the British Parliament created the Australian Antarctic Territory (in 1933)? Or, best of all, 17 December, the day in 1920 when the League of Nations mandated Nauru and New Guinea to Australia. That way, we recall both Manus Island and Nauru as essential elements in who we are as Australians in the modern world (nationalistic, jingoistic, xenophobic, racists.)
Which brings us back to 26 January, the day that the British Government began a systematic and thorough process of reclaiming land from Aboriginal people, removing them when they stood in the way, herding them into designated areas to live, refusing to pay them for their labour, stealing their children in order to “assimilate” them, and massacring any who stood in the way of “enlightened white progress”. Is that really what we are all about?