January 26: A Conversation That Matters

Indigenous Affairs, Reconciliation

Cannings Purple 25 Jan 2021
3 mins

As the Australia Day holiday rolls around each year, questions are raised about our history and national identity. At the heart of these questions – multiculturalism, colonisation and inclusion.

For some, this date means barbecues, fireworks and gatherings with friends and family – a day to celebrate Australia.

But for others, the day is far from a celebration – signifying the beginning of dispossession, destruction of culture and separation of families. Consequently, some Australians refer to January 26 as Invasion Day, Survival Day and Day of Mourning.

A Nation Divided

The debate around changing the date, saving the date, or cancelling the holiday all together remains challenging, with many perspectives from both, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-indigenous Australians.

Saving the date means continuing to celebrate a day that is very painful for many people, while just simply changing or cancelling the date doesn’t address the trauma and disadvantage that still affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as a result of colonisation.

Reconciliation Australia co-chair, Professor Tom Calma, says it is important for Australia to engage in dialogue about the history of 26 January and what the date continues to signify.

“It’s not about trying to lay guilt on individuals but it’s about trying to make sure that our future, our children and Australians generally, have an understanding of the history of Australia,” Calma says.

“Australia’s history didn’t start in 1788 but it goes on well beyond that. And there’s a lot to recognise and celebrate. But also, there’s a lot in our history that’s very dark, that we need to expose to ensure that these sort of atrocities never happen again.”

Australia Day poll shows how attitudes have shifted

A recent poll conducted by Essential Media highlights a steady decline in people celebrating Australia Day.


  • Fewer than a third (29%) of those polled are doing something to celebrate Australia Day this year, lower than in previous years (34% in 2020 and 40% in 2019).
  • More than half (53%) say they treat it as just a public holiday, which is the highest recorded since 2015.
  • 6% are working and don’t get the holiday, and 12% don’t know.

How to respectfully mark 26 January

Auspire – Australia Day Council WA in strategic alliance with Reconciliation WA have worked together to develop these recommendations to respectfully mark 26 January:

  • Talk with your local First Peoples’ community members to inform yourself of their views on the date. This will help you develop a respectful approach.
  • Share your new knowledge and have respectful conversations with family, friends, colleagues, and neighbours about what you’ve learned and the different perspectives.
  • Attend the Birak Concert – an annual concert celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Birak Concert, Perth

  • Incorporate into your event something which acknowledges past injustices in our nation’s history.
  • Consider holding a moment of silence at the start of formal celebrations to reflect on our nation’s history.

A conversation to have

The ongoing debate is not going to be resolved overnight, but it’s definitely a conversation that matters.

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