An imported day without importance

It’s hard not to love a long weekend.

A good chance to recharge the batteries, spend time with friends and family, maybe even duck down to the coast. Public holidays are also meant to be a time to reflect and think why we’re enjoying that rare, hard earned day off together as a community.

We think of national sacrifice on ANZAC Day; Easter and Christmas holidays bring meaning for the religious or spiritual and are important family days. Labour Day reminds us of the struggles to deliver basic working conditions like the eight hour day, weekends and public holidays themselves. Even the humble Show Day, a mainstay for regional towns across Australia, brings with it a deep sense of community.

So in contrast to all those days of significance and meaning the Queen’s Birthday long weekend just sits there awkwardly on our national calendar, plonked between Easter and October. Short of needing a break I can’t think of too many people who’d have an answer to the question, “what does the Queen’s Birthday mean to you?”.

We don’t have a parade or a ceremony, we don’t even have a special cake. My parents at least had cracker night but, with my one exception during university while studying in Canberra, those days are long since gone. The Queen’s Birthday holiday feels like an anachronism just like the old backyard firecrackers.

It is an imported day without importance.

Last Wednesday there was a day of Australian significance that slipped past without much notice – the anniversary of the Mabo High Court decision.

It was the rarest of all legal judgements – one that spoke and engaged the nation. It sensed and drove a shift in our country’s mood. The decision changed our law and it changed how we saw ourselves. Twenty two years later it is still breathtaking to think of the lies, the falsehoods and the prejudices it knocked over in that ruling.

Legally, the court turned over the absurd and racist idea that before Captain Cook showed up the Australian continent sat uninhabited, and rejected totally that Aboriginal people were uncivilised. Morally, it challenged the ideas of ownership and connection to the land.

Our island continent has attracted and captivated countless millions of people. From the earliest of nomadic travellers to the newest wave of migrants, this continent has a way of getting under your skin. It’s the lucky and quietly achieving country with the distinct feeling of ‘home’.

Our First People, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, knew that bond first and still know it the deepest. They are the true custodians of this land and as Paul Keating said in his Redfern address, “it begins, I think, with that act of recognition”.

So it is remarkable that there is no national day where we recognise our First Peoples.

We have time to recognise a foreign monarch who has an increasingly tenuous connection to this country on a day that isn’t even her birthday. It stands then that we should have the space to recognise the people who have held the longest lasting connection with this land for tens of thousands of years.

Every Australian, regardless of their background and history, feels connected to this country. Yet we can’t ignore the simple fact that for the many that connection has come at the expense of the few.Dispossession did occur, bonds with the land were broken.

Marking a national day of Australia’s First People would be a signal of respect and recognition of those simple facts.

It would be a day to reflect on the history, contributions, achievements and cultures of our First Peoplesand the hundreds of nations and language groups across Australia. It would be a day to feel hopeful for our future and a day to focus on what needs to come next on the long road of reconciliation.

By no means would it be a silver bullet, nor does it trump any other policy priority for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. We still need to close the gaps in education, health and life expectancy. We have to address incarceration levels, employment and standards of living. We still need to achieve constitutional recognition. We need a government that will protect, not demolish, the Racial Discrimination Act or rip half a billion from the federal budget. But I believe a national day of reflection and recognition is a worthwhile idea to progress.

Reflecting on the Mabo decision, Australian of the Year Mick Dodson said, “What we want is an acceptance of our history and what has happened to us, the first Australians. Now don’t deny the historical truth. If you can do that, you’ll free your heart.”

I think a national day of significance for all Australians to do just that is a fine ambition to have.

About Elliot Stein

Elliot Stein

Elliot Stein is a ALP branch member in Logan South in the Federal division of Rankin.

    CONTRIBUTOR click to Donate

    The Chifley Research Centre relies on contributions from individuals and organisations to fund our operations, events and research. Without your donations, nothing we do would be possible.

  • Andrew Giles & Ryan Batchelor

    Andrew Giles is the Federal Labor Member for Scullin in Victoria. Ryan Batchelor is a director of the Chifley Research

    Ben Hugosson

    Benedict Hugosson is an Organisational Ombudsman for the Swedish Social Democrats, focusing on training and membership development. Benedict has experience

    Cameron Clyne

    Cameron Clyne is the former CEO of National Australia Bank and now chairman of advisory firm Camel Partners and a

    Carol Johnson

    Professor Carol Johnson - Carol is an Adjunct Professor of Politics at the University of Adelaide and has written extensively

    Catherine King

    Catherine King is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development.

    David Coats

    David Coats is in Australia as a Visitor at the Chifley Research Centre. He is a research fellow at the

    Gabrielle Kuiper

    Dr Gabrielle Kuiper has a background in science, sustainability and urban planning. She was previously Senior Adviser, Climate Change, Energy

    Emma Maiden

    Emma Maiden is the former Assistant Secretary of Unions NSW. She is currently Head of Advocacy for Uniting, leading their

    Erin Watt

    Erin Watt is the National Secretary of the Labor Environment Action Network. Erin is a National Political Coordinator for United

    Jim Chalmers

    Jim Chalmers MP is Shadow Treasurer, and the federal Labor Member for Rankin. Prior to his election he was

    Jo-anne Schofield

    Jo-anne Schofield is the National President of United Workers Union.

    Josh Burns

    Josh Burns is the federal member for Macnamara in Victoria.

    Linda Tirado

    Linda Tirado is a completely average American. She also has good rants about how much it sucks to be poor

    Lindy Edwards

    Dr Lindy Edwards is the Associate Head of School in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University

    Rebecca White

    Rebecca White, Leader of the Tasmanian Labor Opposition

    Terri Butler

    Terri Butler is the Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water, and the federal Labor Member for Griffith, Queensland.

    Tim Kennedy

    Tim Kennedy is national secretary of the United Workers Union, organising for secure jobs and a fair Australia.

    Website design and development by