Change the date, debate, nah mate

Words by Skye Davey
Art by Alicia Simons

I marched on “Australia Day” 2017 in a t-shirt with CHANGE THE DATE sharpied across the front.

This year I binned it.

Change the date supporters have reason to pat themselves on the back lately. Freo flicked the first domino when it canceled Australia Day celebrations back in 2016. A handful of city councils did the same and more would have followed, probably, if the government hadn’t threatened to strip their right to hold citizenship ceremonies.

Triple J moved their Hottest 100 to the day after Australia Day (though it felt more like a shrug than a moral stand, to be honest). And then polling found the majority of Australian voters don’t mind when our national day is held, so long as we get one. Change the date advocates sold it as a win for the campaign.

They might not sport LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT bumper stickers or march for the United Patriots Front, but are they missing the point?

“This is not a change the date rally”, were the words of organisers at Melbourne’s #AbolishAustraliaDay march. For Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance – the organisers of this year’s Melbourne rally – celebrating “Australia” on any other day is putting lipstick on a pig. Elder Tony Birch told the 60,000 supporters gathered at Parliament, “this country does not deserve a national day in any capacity”.

Not until land is returned.

Not while Aboriginal children are 24 times more likely to be locked up than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. While kids like Dylan Voller are abused with impunity.

Not while Aboriginal people are expected to die a full decade younger than everybody else. While young Aboriginal men have the highest suicide rate in the world.

Not while the number of Aboriginal children removed from their families is double that at the time of Rudd’s apology.

This country is broken and changing the date cannot fix us. It won’t dampen the anger and hurt burning hot in Aboriginal people across the country.

Somehow, white people like me have come to believe that changing the date is list item #1 for Aboriginal activists (maybe, just maybe – could this have something to do with the media?).

Warm and fuzzy aspirations about a day we can “finally celebrate together” are papering over the cracks. Pushing the dirt under the rug. Folks who hope we can pick a different date and shut up have the wrong end of the stick entirely.

“Australia Day” causes real hurt. But, part of the reason it cuts so deep is that Aboriginal people are still being wronged. Changing the date might bring some comfort, but it won’t bring justice.

Whatever the outcome, this is just the beginning.

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