Australia (Act) Day

As usual, 26 January has been marked by protests, denunciations of those protests, and further iterations. Even apart from the fact that it marks an invasion, the foundation of a colony that later became one of Australia’s states isn’t much of a basis for a national day.

A logical choice would be the day our Federation came into force. Unfortunately for this idea, our Founders chose 1 Jan 1901. The first day of the 20th century[1] must have seemed like an auspicious choice for a new country, but it ruled out the anniversary as a national day.

The ideal thing would be to fix the problems of our current system with a republican constitution including a treaty with the original owners of our land. That would provide a date really worthy of celebration.

In the meantime, I suggest 3 March, the anniversary of the day in 1986 when the Australia Act came into force, finally establishing beyond any doubt that Australia is an independent country, entirely separate from the UK[2]. We had by 1986 a constitution and public policy that was at least formally non-racist, thanks to the 1967 referendum and the end of the White Australia policy. Many of the symbolic problems with the current date would be avoided, though the real injustices would remain to be addressed.

It’s true that the Australia Act doesn’t have a lot of resonance. But any date with a lot of resonance is bound to resonate badly for a large proportion of the population. At least this would be a choice nearly all of us could celebrate without worrying too much about its precise significance.

fn1. At least if you start the count from 1CE. I think it would be more sensible to cross-label 1BCE as 0 CE, making 1900 the start of C20. I had always assumed that Dionysius Exiguus, who invented the AD calendar was unaware of the concept of zero, but Wikipedia accords him a prominent role in its history.

fn2. Whether, when and to what extent, we had become an independent country before 1986 remains a mystery, but there’s no doubt after that.

31 thoughts on “Australia (Act) Day

  1. Assuming that you want to stay with a January public holiday, you could also use January 18th, Edmund Barton’s birthday. The other alternative I’ve seen is May 8 (Mate).

    I also think that we should make Mabo Day (June 3) a national holiday, but that’s not entirely relevant to this particular conversation.

  2. Assuming that you need to stick with a January holiday, there’s the 18th (Edmund Barton’s birthday). I’ve also seen May 8 (Mate) suggested.

    Personally I think that we should make Mabo Day (June 3rd) a national holiday, but that’s not strictly relevant to this conversation!

  3. I’ll be the contrarian once again. Why do we need a national day? It’s simply an excuse for;

    (a) politicians’ speeches;
    (b) excess alcohol consumption; and
    (c) burnt meat.

    Our society is already far too celebratory. We are always patting ourselves on the back. What for? Destroying everything? The barrier reef, the bush, the climate. All destroyed. We should be in sack-cloth and ashes. We soon will be in sack-cloth and ashes.

    As for the years, there is no year zero and there can be no year zero, in a formal sense. When we count existing items we start at 1. The year 10 is the tenth year of the decade 1 to 10. However, anyone is welcome to receive $10 dollars from me today and pay me back tomorrow by counting out dollar coins from zero. Call the first dollar you give me “zero”, the next dollar “one” and so on on up to “ten”. I will be quite happy to receive “ten” dollars in this manner. You will be handing me $11 of course.

  4. Another option is to have the official Australia day on January 1 with the Australia day celebration/holday on the 4th Monday in January. We have quite often separated the public holiday from the actual day we are remembering eg Queen’s Birthday, and Anzac Day (in previous years).

  5. It was originally called Foundation Day, which is technically correct.

    And since the HC decision on Mabo it is technically correct to call it Invasion Day.

    It certainly doesn’t accurately represent the formation of a nation or the claim of possession – it seems to be a continuation of the undead culture wars.

  6. I’m wondering how many people took Australia Day off and didn’t do anything work related. For many a Public Holiday isn’t a day off. It’s just a day when low productivity may be excused.

  7. Pr Q said:

    As usual, 26 January has been marked by protests, denunciations of those protests, and further iterations. Even apart from the fact that it marks an invasion, the foundation of a colony that later became one of Australia’s states isn’t much of a basis for a national day.

    I have a modest proposal to make for practical moral philosophy. Invasion and disposession implies theft or at least unlawful appropriation. The beneficiaries and legatees of Invasion are thus clearly in receipt of stolen property, to whit land titles for which they have not provided proper consideration to the rightful owners.

    At a minimum, I suggest all non-indigenous landowners who, in deadly earnest, use the phrase “Invasion Day” be required to make reparations to Indigenes equivalent to the rate of interest on the unimproved site value of their property for the term of their ownership.

    [crickets chirping]

  8. Technically,all that was no more an invasion than the Anglo-Saxon-Jute (English) arrival in Britain or the French arrival in Morocco, in the 5th and 19th centuries A.D. respectively. Unlike (say) the Danes’ arrival in Britain or the French arrival in Madagascar (at any rate, in force), or the Norman Conquest of England in and after 1066 A.D.), which were invasions, the others were infiltrations. Now, that makes no difference to some aspects, such as whether they led to “takings” or whether they can be extenuated, mitigated or excused, but it makes a lot of difference to other things – particularly, what to learn from them so as to know what to look out for in the future. Think “Finlandisation”. It is simply shoddy to say “sick is sick” and treat all patients as though they had the same disease – even if they do all have diseases.

  9. I think that the landing of armed forces on foreign soil easily satisfies the definition of an invasion;

    “ the Governor went on Shore to take Possession of the Land with a Company of Granadeers & Some Convicts At three A Clock in the Afternoon he sent on board of the Supply Brigantine for the Union Jack then orders was Gave fore the Soldiers to March down to the West Sid of the Cove they Cut one of the Trees Down & fixt as flag Staf & H[o]istd the Jack and Fired four Folleys of Small Arms which was Answered with three Cheers from the Brig then thay Marched up the head of the Cove where they Piched their Tents”

  10. Jack, I think your idea is sound but I can’t see why you limit it to people willing to acknowledge the crime. We don’t normally do that or a plea of not guilty would always terminate a prosecution. Surely the acceptance should count as a mitigating factor and those who don’t get a month in jail on top of the reparation order?

    That would also give us a second national holiday on top of Treaty Day, we could call it “Repayment Day”, the annual feast and celebration of another installment paid. We might not want to celebrate from the camps we’re all living in now we’ve been forced to return the stolen land, but I’m sure some accommodation could be reached with the rightful owners to let us out for a bit.

  11. Federation Day has a lot going for it, mostly because we could do it now. Moving Australia Day again would also be no big deal, we could even keep “First Fleet Day” but presumably that would be NSW only (I doubt Melbunions want to celebrate some foreign criminals arriving somewhere else)

    The disadvantage of Treaty Day is that we haven’t got one to celebrate* and we’re a long way away from having one. OTOH, maybe people would demand action if they were told they wouldn’t get the public holiday until the treaty has been signed?

  12. “The ideal thing would be to fix the problems of our current system with a republican constitution including a treaty with the original owners of our land. That would provide a date really worthy of celebration.”

    A treaty is a contract. What would be the substantive (non-platitudinous) implications of this contract? The “original owners” of the land – if they did “own” it – are all dead. So I assume their currently alive ancestors (or their “representatives”) would be one party to this contract and the rest of Australia) or the Australian Parliament) the other side. A referendum won’t work unless non-indigenous Australia just votes to give Parliament the right to work out details.

    Would current non-aboriginal owners be required to make compensations (rental payments)to the indigenous for retaining the right to live on what is now privately-owned Australian land? What would happen to crown land?

    Would compensations be monetary or political (e.g. a permanent representative body with a substantive input to Parliament funded by Parliament with control over indigenous affairs)?

    BTW Malcolm Turnbull agrees on the case for a treaty with the Republican twist as well.

  13. Harry, retro-treaties have been signed in Canada and the USA, and the Treaty of Waitangi was significantly reinterpreted by the courts quite recently.

    I expect that in Australia it would involved a more substantive equivalent the the recent Uluru Declaration being taken a lot more seriously. But to get to that point the current government would have to build enough goodwill that anyone would believe them if they said they wanted to start that process. I doubt many people are willing to start down that road after the “you’re supposed to be dead already” response to the declaration.

  14. On the subject of people already being dead, an interesting fact is the Queen of Australia only got her job through family connections with people who are now dead.

  15. A logical choice would be the day our Federation came into force. Unfortunately for this idea, our Founders chose 1 Jan 1901. The first day of the 20th century[1] must have seemed like an auspicious choice for a new country, but it ruled out the anniversary as a national day.

    I don’t know that it matters, but there are some countries which have national days on 1 January:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/January_1

  16. Could also be time to reflect on what actually was the point of establishing a Commonwealth of six separate colonies in light of current border restrictions between states. Basically grounded in the idea that countries needed to get bigger at the time to establish large militaries and therefore keep Asian people out. There is no longer any need for this. Look at this history of war over the past 50 years eg. Vietnam, Afghanistan and you no longer find that the larger side wins. All of the 10 countries in the world with the highest GDP per capita are now small countries or city states. Could be time to go back to more decentralised government ie. six separate countries with governance moving away from Canberra. There is little (if any) benefit any longer to large centralised government. The US is heading the same way as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia when their economies started declining stagnating ie. break up into smaller units of governance.

  17. akarog sid on January 28, 2021 at 9:25 am:-

    I think that the landing of armed forces on foreign soil easily satisfies the definition of an invasion.

    You are doing what I pointed out was unsound, essentially saying “a rose is a rose is a rose” even when talking of very different flowers that need very different treatment.

    No, it does not satisfy the definition of an invasion, precisely because of those technical points I was making. All those things you cite, which are 100% true, are precisely what make it an infiltration when considered with other aspects. Had there been entry backed by applied force followed by rapid departure, that would have made it an incursion< or raid, and had there been entry backed by applied force followed by entrenching an enduring presence, that would have made it an invasion. But it was an entry, followed by staying, without force ever being actually applied to achieve it. That means it could only have been one of two things, invitation (like Hengist and Horsa initial arrival in Kent) or infiltration. You can see which of those applies in this case.

    See also Ogden Nash’s poem, “The Japanese”. Please consider, as my reference to that should tell you, that I am not trying to present an apologia but to convey insight of a sort that still matters.

    Here’s a technicality that matters, by way of an example: Harry Clarke thinks that the ancestors of those displaced at the time are still alive. They aren’t. Technical differences like infiltration/invasion matter just as much as ancestor/descendant; they are not to be hand waved aside.

  18. @PML if you want an example of infiltration, you don’t need to go back more than a few years. Putin’s little green men in Crimea fit the model perfectly. I can’t see that it gets you anywhere, though. It was still an invasion, even it it started with infiltration.

  19. We don’t need a national day, but we do need a holiday to mark the end of the summer break (and ease schools, etc into the year with a four day week). Just have a holiday on the fourth Monday in January and call it the January Public Holiday, similar to the bank holidays in England.

    Having said that, one way to get less ideologically engaged people to support the decision would be to create an additional holiday, which could be any old nonsense date at a time of year that suits. Donald Bradman was born 27 August, which would be nice.

  20. P.M.Lawrence says; “No, it does not satisfy the definition of an invasion,” if you, as a tort and black letter laws reader, decide in a vaxxum of terra nulius and ignore time, as in the next 200+ years. Marcia Langton on this point would denounce your comment.

    PML: “Technical differences like infiltration/invasion matter just as much as ancestor/descendant; they are not to be hand waved aside.”, because my framework for decisions is entirely based around ’eminent domain’. Pity the aborigines didn’t have a book to throw back. But ‘we enlightened individuals’ can see such pedantic ‘personal freedoms priivate property’ type bickering, is only causing harm. They had, and continue to have, ” a valid public purpose”, imo.

    …” It does not include the power to take and transfer ownership of private property from one property owner to another private property owner without a valid public purpose.[3]” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eminent_domain

  21. As invasion and infiltration are synonymous it seems to be a discussion which has no point.

    Infiltration does imply a degree of stealth, which was lacking in the colonial forces.

  22. JQ, it gets you a lot of places, just as (say) a field guide to snakes alerts you to just what you face and just what to do about it.

    Look, those who talk up “invasion day” are “trying to prove too much”, as the saying has it. Yes, it’s a colourful and extravagant term that brings out the effects – but at the price of deceiving about the journey there.

    Here are some cases that may, just possibly, illustrate the points at issue for those willing to look into the genuine technical issues.

    The French started out in North Africa by invading Algeria. That was a real invasion, as it was carried out by force. Later, they tried slower, subtler and more cost-effective methods in Tunisia and Morocco, which come under the heading “infiltration”; the French jokingly called those “peaceful penetration”. Later still, the Americans really did invade Morocco.

    Consider, though: all of what the French did was harmful to and exploitative of the natives, but what the Americans did was actually liberation, of the natives if not of Vichy – even though they landed with force while opposed with force, which is what qualifies it as an invasion. (Conversely, the point I was trying to make by citing Ogden Nash’s poem “The Japanese” was that you do not exonerate someone by recognising that the harmful actions are not done with force, as long as you recognise the harm.)

    So you see that the very real distinctions I am trying to make have to do with seeing and recognising what may be coming. You can’t track back from harm and spuriously infer “invasion”, for if you do you will be preparing yourself to fail to track forward to see harm if you do not see invasion on some other occasion (and you won’t be ready to help a liberation, if an invasion of that sort should come up).

    No, there was no invasion of this land mass in 1788. Yes, what happened then did cause harm to many here then and to their descendants. But it is just as wrong to over-egg the pudding and make out that that qualifies it as invasion as it would be to call what happened in Ireland over centuries the result of an invasion by the English. The many wars and so on in Ireland were launched by forces that had already got hold of bases in Ireland, so they didn’t have to invade. There would have been no point in setting out beacons to warn of an English armada invading. There was a lot of point in taking other steps. And that is why it is unsound to call such things invasions, just because it makes it feel more serious, as one consequence is you do the wrong things because you see the wrong things.

    akarog, do you see now that the two things are no more synonymous than the great pox and smallpox? That it matters, for diagnosis and treatment? Also, actually, infiltration sometimes works better without stealth, when being brazen lulls suspicion. It’s basically how, many years ago, I got a deranged Rumanian into the West German embassy in London after it was sealed up for the night.

  23. The ideal thing would be to fix the problems of our current system with a republican constitution including a treaty with the original owners of our land. That would provide a date really worthy of celebration.

    It would be the date of commencement for all our new difficulties!

  24. At least these difficulties could be anticipated if some substance was attached to the idea of the “Treaty”. The NZ Treaty of Waikato ceded sovereignty over lands to the British and subsequently to the NZ government. Compensations have been paid to indigenous NZers but the courts have ruled that all such authority stems from the authority of the NZ government. Thus the compensations seem to be independent of the “Treaty”. As I questioned above: What non-symbolic significance derives from the idea of an Australian “Treaty”. We cop this boring debate every year. Isn’t it about time the complainants got to the point of saying what they want? Beyond sustaining the annual grizzle why advance what seems to be either an empty policy objective or one that will never be accepted by non-indigenous Australia (“Always was, always will be aboriginal land” etc).

    My assumption is they won’t get compensation for non-indigenous private landholdings, they won’t get a claim to crown land (what a disaster this would be!) and they won’t get a guaranteed voice with some authority in the Federal Parliament. What will they get? A few ad hoc transfers until the next round of complaints arrive?

  25. Before a treaty you negotiate. Usually, negotiations start with ambit claims. We must ask indigenous people in Australia to pick their representatives empowered to treat with the Federal Government. Then we must ask them to make their ambit claims. Nothing is off the table for an ambit claim. Then the process of negotiation must begin until the two parties can reach agreement.

    White Australia (including me) cannot presume to know what indigenous Australia’s ambit claims will be. The process of making ambit claims will let us know what indigenous people want in full. White Australia on the other hand need make no ambit claims. Clearly, what we have taken and have now is our default and real ambit claim. We stole the whole continent after all. I don’t think one gets to make an ambit claim after having stolen everything.

    Let’s take an ambit claim and negotiate in good faith. The process will be enormously complex but it is still necessary. I imagine it will take a Royal Commission into the White Settlement of Australia and then a Truth, Reconciliation, Compensation and Treaty Commission or Court running for years and delivering a stream of high-level interim judgements. Do we have the courage to do this? Then in the end, or rather progressively we will have to give up and redistribute a portion of the total “stuff” of our economy and continenet. Every white person who says it’s too hard says that because they don’t want to give up a portion of their loot.

    Those who propose that people of conscience go first and be the only ones to give up stuff (as has already been proposed on this blog by one blogger) are proposing that people lacking conscience get a free pass to avoid reparations while the rest pay up. There can be no free-riding. All must pay their portion of negotiated reparations when the time comes.

  26. Pr Q said:

    As usual, 26 January has been marked by protests, denunciations of those protests, and further iterations. Even apart from the fact that it marks an invasion, the foundation of a colony that later became one of Australia’s states isn’t much of a basis for a national day.

    The foundation of a British colony on the other side of the Earth – a one way trip to the Fatal Shore which might as well have been to Mars! – is worthy of note. They spent eight months in a leaky boat with perhaps 5% of their number dying on route. Not “flash”, as the PM noted.

    Settlement Day was the ultimate stress test of the British socio-biological system. Throw a bunch of petty thieves and Irish rebels onto a desert island, guarded by corrupt cops and see how they turn out. Within one hundred years they transformed the biggest desert island in the world into the best country in the world.

    The hard yards were done by the First Settlers. The Australia Act was just a footnote.

    A Job well done deserves a day of commemoration. Its the least we can do by way of gratitude for all the blood spilt, sweat beaded and tears shed.

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