AS the nation came together to celebrate patriotism, pride and all things Australian, a loud hum could be heard from various movements and individuals around Australia calling for the national day to be moved to a new date.
Those in favour of change strongly argue Australia Day, January 26, is a day celebrating English invasion of Aboriginal land, with blood shed, slavery and oppression to follow.
Arguments against typically hinge on history and the way Australia has grown to become a multicultural society since white settlement.
Some concede that more should be done to recognise the brutality that came with white settlement.
The overall feeling from elders of the local Aboriginal community is it’s time for change, with Bpangerang elder Uncle Freddie Dowling supporting the movement for a new date.
He said while he had enjoyed aspects of this year’s Australia Day, the date is “causing friction and trouble”.
“There’s a simple solution and that solution is to change the date,” he said.
“The 26th can still have its significance about Captain Cook but call it something different, call it Arrival Day.
“Australia Day should not hold any bad feelings for anyone and if it’s about a celebration, everyone should be able to celebrate.
“Australia Day needs to be on a date that is not going to offend anybody.”
Fellow elder Aunty Betty Cherry said the date didn’t have to change, but called for the day to have more of a memorial component.
“On Anzac Day we remember all the soldiers who fought and died so why don’t we remember all the people who died when Captain Cook arrived?” she said.
“The day before and the day after (Australia Day) I grieve for my ancestors, the people who fought in a war that’s only now being acknowledged.
“I do get a bit emotional about it, it’s not a pleasant time for me.”
She said while the day was a sad one for many Aboriginal people the history of the day should not be forgotten
“If they (British) hadn’t been so violent and made us slaves, sexually abused boys and girls, killed babies and other people it would all be a lot different,” she said.
“I don’t think a lot of people have actually sat there and thought about that.
“I’ve only found out in the past couple of years that I’ve got 10 or 11 siblings.
“We were all separated and I was either told I had none (siblings) or that they were all dead.
“If they hadn’t have taken me away I’d still be with my family.”
Aunty Betty said more research needed to be done on the First Fleet’s arrival, saying recent research indicated there may have been other ships landing on the East Coast of Australia earlier than the 26th.
She said a simple step in helping to “mend” the past could be taken in Wangaratta.
“There could be a plaque on a rock in Wangaratta that acknowledges what happened and says ‘sorry for what our ancestors did’,” she said.
“If something like that could be achieved here maybe other people around the country would follow us.”
Our local state and federal members of parliament are divided about whether Australia needs to change the date of Australia Day.
Tim McCurdy (MLA, Ovens Valley) said the date was historically significant and should not be changed.
He said the indigenous culture of Australia should be celebrated and Australia Day is “inclusive of all immigrants, cultures and our indigenous history”.
“(January 26) recognises and celebrates the arrival of the first fleet which begins the development of Australia as a nation,” he said.
“Our values and ethics still today reflect the ideals that were current in 1788.
“I do think that our Indigenous Australians have been beneficiaries of these values and aspirations and I believe that we should all celebrate our indigenous culture that exists as well .
“The Australia we have today represents a combination of our hard working ancestors both of European descent and our first Australians that includes our determination to succeed and with strong community values mixed in with multi cultures.
“We must preserve this culture while still embracing immigrants to our community, however, we must not relax or compromise our core values for those who join our land.
“It is a privilege to live in Australia…we should all respect that privilege and follow the laws and community standards that Australians expect.”
Meanwhile, Cathy McGowan (MHR, Indi) believes any decision about date changes should involve Aboriginal consultation.
“Aboriginal people in Indi tell me they want to be consulted and included in decisions that affect them,” she said.
“It would make sense to tie any change of date to the process of Australia becoming a republic.
“In the meantime, there is a lot of work to be done in addressing the disadvantage faced every day of the year by Aboriginal communities.
“The 2017 Closing the Gap report will be released in coming days.
“The report will reveal there is a lot of work needed to give Aboriginal Australians equal access to opportunities to thrive.”
Ms McGowan said January 26 would always be remembered as an important point in Australia’s history of English settlement.
But she said it was important indigenous history and culture were continually incorporated into Australian celebrations.
“It is encouraging to see communities around Indi increasingly acknowledge the past mistreatment of indigenous Australians in their Australia Day events,” she said.
“Our strong indigenous history and culture is something to celebrate at every opportunity.”