The 26th of January is the official date of the beginning of white settlement in Australia and has been celebrated as a public holiday since the early years of settlement, long before Federation. It cannot be denied that white settlement was not entirely a good thing for the indigenous population, who had lived in this place for tens of thousands of years already.
There has been debate over many years about whether the day should be changed to something more ...neutral? Shared?
Now, thanks to our newly elected Government, there will be a formal apology in Parliament to the stolen generations, this coming Wednesday. This is the culmination of many years of calls for a "sorry day", ever since a national inquiry into the removal of indigenous children from their families resulted in the Bringing Them Home report (1997).
Of course there are hugely mixed feelings about this. Overly simplified, these include, from the right: there's no reason to apologise because nothing happened or at least nothing bad; or it's excessive for today's leaders to apologise for decisions of the past; and it will create financial and other liabilities for the government. (No reparations are being offered to go with this apology). From the left, enthusiastic cheering, or hesitant cheering, or downright disappointment that it's not enough.
It's not for me to say what's enough for the people directly involved. But I am an Australian, and over ten years or so I've realised that I'm not living in quite the country I thought I was in. It was the children overboard affair that drove this home. So I'm quietly, cautiously optimistic about the possiblities for my country under the new government. I reckon I'd be comfortable with the date of Australia Day being changed to 13 February. Not to be a depressing, black armband, memorial day. That would be the obvious argument against it. But wouldn't it be great to think that in a couple of years time, once we see what the fallout from the apology has been, we could reconstruct apology day as something to be proud of as a nation. The day we were willing to just say it,
Wouldn't that be a bold gesture.