Australia Day is just 21 days away and it is the time I think about what our national day means. Australia Day does not mark a defining moment in history that can be commonly and equally celebrated by all Australians.
The date, January 26, recalls the day of British settlement, one defining moment on the path to modern nationhood. For many Australians, British settlement represents invasion, loss, or something alien to their experience and identity.
What is celebrated on Australia Day, even how we celebrate Australia Day, remains contested. This is not surprising given the ongoing evolution and multiplicity of Australian identity. It would be deeply problematic if Australia Day celebrated a singular experience of Australia and being Australian.
While many Australians bring a healthy scepticism and larrikin irreverence to their national day, most take their responsibilities as citizens seriously. Australia is not a nation of spontaneous flag-wavers – we are a nation of organised flag-wavers.
Providing event and communication opportunities through which Australians can demonstrate their national spirit is the work of the National Australia Day Council. On Australia Day the Council seeks to highlight the best of the Australian experience so that Australians might reflect upon their shared and varied experience.
The Council has not attempted to produce a reductive account of the Australian experience. Rather, we have sought to acknowledge and embrace the diversity of national experience and the contested meanings and modes of celebrating Australia Day. In acknowledging, and embracing the contestation, diversity has become a means of making the day more broadly accessible and inclusive.
Despite the increasingly cosmopolitan character of modern Australia, the celebration of Australia Day is growing and developing in ways that reflect, and facilitate, a more widely shared appreciation of the anniversary and its meanings. The aim is to see Australia Day become a day of celebration for Australians, a day on which all can celebrate together all that is great about Australia and being Australian.
Adapted from a previously published paper
Pearson, W. and O’Neill, G. (2009) ‘Australia Day: A day for all Australians’ in McCrone, D. and McPherson, G. (eds) National Days. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan pp. 73-88.