Australia Day 2020 was an event made all the more meaningful and poignant for a great many Australians because of the effects of the devastating bushfires of recent months along with the many associated examples of tragedy and loss, and heroism and sacrifice that has characterised the impact of the crisis at individual, community, and institutional levels.

For a great many people Australia Day 2020 provided a brief time for respite, reflection, and – perhaps – some comfort enjoyment with family and community.

The tragic events appear to have fostered a renewal of national pride in the qualities of character and resilience that make us Australian.

There was no need for political jingoism about what it means to be an Australian (although some politicians cannot help themselves); rather the quiet and often self-effacing manner of ordinary people who have served as ‘firies’, water bomber crews, emergency service people, national parks workers, foresters, police, and servicemen and women said it all.

Being Australian is a pride we all cherish and need to preserve.

In recent years Australia Day celebrations, however, have not always displayed a mood of total amity and pride across the nation when one would suppose that a day celebrating nationhood would be universally a matter of pleasure and satisfaction.

Sadly, this is not the case as the day selected for Australia Day falls on January 26 – the day marking the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Harbour.

The ships of the convict colony fleet had actually arrived on January 19 and 20 in Botany Bay before sailing on to Sydney Cove several days later.

It took until 1988 before every state agreed that January 26 was the day on which Australia Day should be celebrated.

Aboriginal Australians, however, have for many years opposed the holding of a day of national commemoration on January 26 and various indigenous groups have chosen to label the occasion in negative terms as ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Survival Day’.

It should be said that the antipathy to Australia Day falling on January 26 has not been shared by all people of Aboriginal descent but it is recognised by most fair-minded people that a great many Aboriginal people have suffered inequity, disadvantage and isolation from modern mainstream Australian life for many years.

Would moving the date of Australia Day make a difference?

Could it unscramble an historical omelette to the satisfaction of everyone? The confluence of events leading to the arrival of shiploads of disadvantaged, maltreated and regimented convicts in Sydney Cove on January 26, 1788 and later should be perhaps seen in the context of the time.

It is unlikely that any of the original 700 convicts, their military guards and ships’ crews regarded themselves as an invasion force.

A fortuitous set of geographical, historical, and other circumstances had isolated the huge continent of Australia from the frenetic human history of the Northern

Hemisphere and the only surges of human migration were those involving the ancestors of Australia’s existing inhabitants over more than 50,000 years – an enormous period of time when seas rose and fell and long climatic cycles endured.

Mass migrations of people were a feature of European history from the earliest times.

Even over the past 3,000 years or so surges of migration, colonisation and empire building have swirled through Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

For example, the Roman Empire was eventually beset by nomadic Huns and the Germanic Goths, Visigoths and Vandals. The tall, blonde-haired Vandals (‘wanderers’) perhaps from Scandinavia, eventually (from October 13, 409) worked their way down the Iberian Peninsula and reached Africa where they conquered the Roman province of Africa, then added Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, Malta and the Balearic Islands.

The Vandals looted Rome in 455 but left the city standing.

In Britain waves of people relocated from elsewhere in Europe and mingled with the Britons, including the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Normans – each group (backed by military might) bringing an infusion of new language, new culture and new religion, all of which helped shape the Britain we know today.

Whether good or ill, the 18th century British focus on Australia for its own purposes was perhaps just a few years ahead of other European opportunists such as France, Belgium, Germany, or the Netherlands.

The Australia we know today emerged from European settlement – and it is what it is.

We now live in a nation which includes its First Nations people and people from a great many other countries in Europe and Asia who regard this land as a haven from oppression and unhappiness – a new home.

Some years ago, at a meeting in Narrabri to discuss ‘Reconciliation’, an Aboriginal lady said that she regretted a poor education but she observed: “I regard myself as a citizen of Narrabri first, an Australian second, and an Aboriginal third!” What she wanted, she added, was to ensure that her children had access to a good education so they could have the same opportunity as anyone else to a good job and a happy life.

We may not be a perfect land but, on the whole, modern Australia is a democratic, law-based, prosperous nation in which freedom of speech still prevails.

The issue of Aboriginal distress or sensitivities about a particular date may be eased if an appropriate means was found to provide a real ‘Voice’ for Aboriginal people in ensuring they have a meaningful say in how their future – and that of this country – unfolds.

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