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Why the date of Australia Day won't be changed for years

The argument about whether to change the date of our national holiday comes down to one thing.

OPINION

Every year the debate about changing the date of Australia Day brings up raw, emotional and passionate opinions from both sides of the argument.

In all honesty, I’ve always sat on the fence. I’ve rarely celebrated Australia Day because I usually worked. Through my 20s it was behind a bar in a pub, with hundreds of patrons just wanting to enjoy their public holiday. Now in my 30s it’s behind a microphone delivering news on the radio.

This year I’ve thought about the arguments more than ever.

We have seen corporate businesses like Woolworths decide not to stock merchandise and reflect the day in their stores. Cricket Australia had to clarify they were using the words "Australia Day" during the test at The Gabba in Queensland, after boss Nick Hockley first mentioned they wouldn’t be. Councils across the nation have moved their citizenship ceremonies from January 26 and thousands of people, like me, have been given the option to work instead of taking a day off for the public holiday.

Outside entryway into Woolworths store.
Shoppers have been unable to purchase Australia Day merchandise from Woolworths stores. Source: Getty

Generation gap getting bigger

The conversation has continued across my family and friends groups too. It had me torn across both sides of the argument because each had vastly different opinions. Friends and work colleagues agree that the date should change. They want to acknowledge the hurt and pain of First Nations people and find a new date where we can all celebrate what being Australian really means to us.

Family members, over the age of 60 have a different opinion. They don’t believe we should be changing the date because "we’ve always celebrated on this day" and "it’s all become too political". They feel everyone is offended by something and the world is a very different place to when they were young.

It seems to me the difference in opinion often lies along the generational divide.

We often see older people resistant to change, while social media can be influential in shaping the views of the young. Most of the older people in my life rarely use social media for news, but religiously watch the 6pm nightly news or flick through the paper while having a coffee in the morning. Compare that to people my age, in their 30s and younger, who from the moment they roll over in bed to turn the alarm off on their phone and start to scroll through social media being given small pieces of information over multiple platforms throughout the day.

I think it means we see and hear a wider variety of news, from a wider range of people, we see individual's own stories more and we can be influenced at a younger age, before we form our own opinions.

I'm not sure if being so connected will be a good or bad thing in the long run, but we are seeing a wider range of content, that's for sure.

Hands wave Australian flags.
In 2024 the debate surrounding Australia Day is hotter than ever. Source: Getty

I was always taught that knowledge is power.

When you know better, you do better.

Will this be the case with the argument for changing the date of Australia Day?

We can’t erase our history, but we can do better.

The Australia Day Council of South Australia is hosting their festivities over two days after consultation over several years with First Nations people. The event will allow attendees to celebrate on both the January 25 and 26 and incorporates First Nations arts, music and reflections across both days. Not only does it allow artists to have their work seen over a longer period of time and for more people to be educated on different First Nations backgrounds, it also gives people an opportunity to decide how and when they want to celebrate being Australian.

Change on the way

The High Court has acknowledged the injustice and dispossession associated with January 26 and many public events worth their social licence do the same. Surveys of thousands of people, like one by Deakin University in 2022 show 60 per cent of Australians want to keep the date, but there’s a growing trend of people aged under 35 who want to see the date changed. Despite this, the 2022 Voice Referendum failed to pass after majority of Australians voted they didn't want to see the constitution changed.

Gunnai man Uncle Wayne Thorpe speaks at Melbourne Invasion Day rally.
Gunnai man Uncle Wayne Thorpe speaks to protesters at an Invasion Day rally in Melbourne in 2023. Source: Getty

I believe younger Australians are more open to change, which we clearly saw with the strong yes vote for same sex marriage in 2017, increased gender diversity and growing support for other social movements. Clearly we are slowly becoming more inclusive of people from all walks of life as a society.

So maybe it will be a slow burn towards changing the date of the national day?

As the younger generations pass down their knowledge to their children, maybe in years from now we will see the government of the day take a stand and change the date. In two or three generations I would hope we have a better understanding of First Nations cultures as social media allows us to gain more exposure to them outside of the classroom.

We talk about our children being the next leaders of the world and I think it will take time, understanding and patience to see change, especially around something as emotive as Australia Day. It's taken time to see more women in Parliament, more acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community and more understanding of how we treat our fellow Australians who suffer from mental health issues.

It's all taken time.

Don't shy away from Australia Day

In the meantime, I don’t believe we should shy away from Australia Day and pretend it doesn’t exist. There’s citizenship ceremonies for some, we have Australian of the Year awards and there’s still millions of people who will take the opportunity to catch up with friends because they have a day off.

I’ll be going to visit my 94-year-old grandmother Jan for a coffee and chat about all things life, fashion and the wonderful stories she has of looking after six children on a farm with her once dashing husband who’s no longer with us.

Abbey Smith's 94-year-old grandmother Jan pictured.
I'll be going to visit my 94-year-old grandmother Jan on Australia Day and taking her out for a coffee and cheeky piece of cake. Source: Supplied

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