January 26th: Reconciliation Victoria's Position Statement

Yarra, Moreland and Darebin Councils have voted to cease Australia Day celebrations and at least another two Victorian councils – Monash and Hepburn Shire – are also debating whether to join the campaign to change the date of Australia Day.

Reconciliation Victoria's January 26th Position Statement and Suggestions for Councils

Reconciliation Victoria supports a continuing national conversation about shifting our national day from January 26.  Such a conversation would help us reflect on who are as a nation, what we stand for, and what date in our history best reflects those values and attributes.

January 26th Position Statement        

Some local councils have changed how they mark Australia Day. This has led to increased debate in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, and reflection on the appropriateness of celebrating on 26th January. We encourage Victorians to reconsider how we celebrate Australia Day.

Reconciliation Victoria acknowledges that as with any community, there is a diversity of views within Aboriginal communities. Some view the day as an opportunity to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ survival as the longest continuing culture on earth within the story of the modern Australian nation.

However, there is a strong view within Aboriginal communities and the reconciliation movement that January 26 represents the beginning of an unlawful invasion with devastating impacts still felt by Aboriginal communities. Commemorating ‘Australia Day’ has been questioned from at least 1938 when Aboriginal leaders declared it a ‘Day of Mourning’. To many since then it has been known as ‘Invasion Day’.

The arrival of Europeans dramatically changed the lives and freedoms of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities throughout Australia, bringing widespread disadvantage and despair. 

Right across the country, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can testify to the impacts of colonisation. They continue to experience marked deficits in health, education, employment, justice and child-removal outcomes.

It’s useful to remember that Australia Day as we know it today, has only existed as a national holiday since 1994. Moving the day is not such a radical step or break with tradition.

It is timely for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians to re-examine this country’s true history and work together to create a new identity – one informed by truth and understanding, that acknowledges the richness that Aboriginal culture and knowledge contributes to this country.

Changing the date is no more ‘divisive’ than how we currently commemorate the date.

Reconciliation Victoria encourages a continuing and respectful national conversation about the suitability of celebrating our national day on the 26th January. This conversation would help us reflect on who we are as a nation, what we stand for, and what date in our history best reflects those values and attributes. 

Belinda Duarte, Co-Chair of Reconciliation Victoria, explains that “by increasing awareness of our history, all Australians will be richer in their identity and further understand why Australia Day evokes strong emotions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Aboriginal people”. 

Download Reconciliation Victoria's 26th January Position Statement

Protocols and suggestions for how to approach 26th January respectfully 

Among other roles, Reconciliation Victoria provides advice to local government and community members around how to approach 26th January respectfully.

We encourage local councils and organisations commemorating the day to recognise the honoured place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in our nation's history, to be sensitive to the feelings of Aboriginal people who may see the day as one of mourning, and to see the day as an opportunity to promote understanding, respect and reconciliation.

There are some simple ways to mark 26th January respectfully, and acknowledge members of the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community: 

  • Talk and consult with your local Traditional Owners and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members to inform yourself of their views on the date and to help you develop a respectful approach;
  • Invite Elders to play a special role in any Australia Day events you are organising, including conducting a 'Welcome to Country', but understand and respect their feelings if they do not wish to take part, and be prepared to respectfully hear their story of what this day represents for them;
  • Suggest guest speakers acknowledge that, while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People have great pride in their heritage, Australia Day reminds them of past loss, and these feelings are also a legitimate part of our national day;
  • Acknowledge local Aboriginal communities and the honoured place of the First Nations in event programs and/or fliers;
  • Incorporate into your event a special ceremony which acknowledges past injustices in our nation's history;
  • One way of recognising the hurt and suffering that Jan 26 causes for Aboriginal people is to fly the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flags at half-mast;
  • Consider holding a moment of silence at the start of formal celebrations to acknowledge the past injustices in our nation’s history;
  • Consider holding celebratory events on an alternative date. 

Other resources and ideas around 26th January:

  • Attend one of the ‘Survival Day’ or ‘Invasion Day’ events, such as the ‘Share the Spirit’ or ‘Belgrave Survival Day’ Festivals (see our website www.reconciliationvic.org.au for details);
  • Check out Maggolee (www.maggolee.org.au) which provides resources for and about local government reconciliation efforts;
  • Be Curious and educate yourself - Reading more about the history of Australia during colonial times, such as during the frontier wars, or about the experience of Aboriginal people can enhance our understanding. It is easy to connect with the history of the place in which you live and the connection to traditional lands that continues today. The information is there, and in most cases, it's a mere click away;
  • Share your new knowledge and have a respectful conversation with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours about what you’ve learned and the different perspectives.

Download Reconciliation Victoria's Protocols and Suggestions for how to approach January 26 respectfully

For further information about the Council's decisions and decision-making process visit our Maggolee website

Some recent media coverage & commentary

Common Ground: Steven Oliver On Changing The Date Of Australia Day, New Matilda, 26/01/2018

Let's make Australia Day one we can all share, Tammy Solonec, Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous Rights Manager, 21/12/2018

Push for Australia Day changes from Greens MP, Herald Sun, Rob Harris and Alex White, 15/01/2018

10 things you should know about January 26, Luke Pearson, Sophie Verass, NITV, 15/01/2018

Changing the date won’t fix ‘Australia Day’, Celeste Liddle, NITV, 22/01/2016

Greens plan major new Australia Day date change campaign, Adam Gartrell, SMH, 15/01/2018

Save Australia Day? You don't even know what you're fighting for, Sophie Verass, NITV, 12/01/2018

Pat Cash slams Australia’s treatment of Aboriginal people on National Television, Welcome to Country, 14/01/2018

Change It Ourselves campaign asks people to take a different day off for Australia Day, Charis Chang, 5/01/2018, news.com.au    Visit the Change it Ourselves website

Interview with Kathryn Arndt, CEO Victorian Local Government Association (VLGA), ABC Local Radio, Drive, 15/01/2018 - starts approx. 2:02:30.

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Studies (AIATSIS) website detailing the history of the Jan 26 as a Day of Mourning.

Indigenous leader labels debate over Australia Day ‘disgraceful’, Rachel Baxendale, The Australian, 16/01/2018

Burney calls for new Indigenous holiday, says Jan 26 is for truth-telling, not celebration, NITV, 17/01/2018

Linda Burney warns Greens push to change Australia Day 'more divisive than helpful', Paul Karp, The Guardian, 17/01/2018.

Most don't care when Australia Day is held, poll finds, Adam Gartrell, The Age, 18/01/2018