The aim of this paper is to document a contentious essay on the controversy of Australia’s National Day that is celebrated on January 26. The notion of imagined communities as framework propounds that the symbolic days or national occasions are characterized by long periods of celebration. There are elaborate talks on discussing the uniqueness of these symbolic days. The national days are connected to the past events but they also have significance for the future. Anderson (1998) noted that the organization and planning circumscribed around National Day in Australia is about rendering meaning to the history of the of the event through manifestations in the form of re-enactments, street parades, concerts, activities in school, media activities and church activities among other (Ben Westcott 2018). The celebration of National Day underlines the progress of the nation in the present condition.
Australia has come under the criticism for celebrating Australia Day on January 26 as it marks the white colonial British invasion into the territory of the aboriginals. It is the arrival of the first fleet of the Sydney Cove and therefore, it is viewed as the invasion day. Australia is one of the few countries in the world that uses the date of invasion to celebrate it as the National Day. Over the years, the National Day in Australia has come to be associated with patriotism. It was on 26th January, 1788 Governor Phillip erected the National Flag on the Australian soil that became an emblem of the colonization of the land of the aborigines, destruction and occupation of their land and marked the victory of British colonial settlers over the indigenous. There has been proposal from the left-wing government in Australia to move the date top another one as the present date posits to be humiliating for the indigenous community. Tom Calma who is a co-chair of the advocacy group Reconciliation Australia is of the view that the present date is reflective of the colonial, impervious and authoritative image of Australia (BBC News 2018). On the contrary, the changing the date would be indicative of a more democratic, egalitarian and humane Australia. Celebrating on Janaury 26 lacerates the sentiments of both the indigenous communities and other supporters who feel that the date commemorates the beginning of a protracted period of dispossession and consequent trauma for the indigenous communities. Calma further argued that since 1994 January 26 has been celebrated only as public holiday. The dispossession and uprooting of the indigenous from their native land followed by the condition of the lost generation evokes pain and humiliation for the numerous communities (Doherty 2018). The present generation of the indigenous community is still recovering from the trauma relinquished through the overflow of indigenous children in out-of-care homes and also indigenous incarceration. It is felt that it is an assault on the heterogeneity of Australia and entrenchment of white leadership and supremacy. Celebrating January 26 as the National Day further underscore on the tendency to eulogize the white colonial settlers as the epitome of civilization, progressiveness and perfection (Carter 2006). As envisaged by Anderson, national celebrations mark the arrival of a new regime by confounding another history thus denoting that nation is subjective of the communities and their history with the concerned nation. The counter argument regarding the furore for changing the date to a different one came from Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott who advocates the right wing ideology. He contends that there more important infrastructural issues that demands urgent attention rather than contemplating over a date (Gellner 2008). He feels that it is important to perceive the date as day of reflection and introspection regarding the journey of Australia to its present state.
The notion of Australia as a specific place demarcated by boundaries is a project of modernity that emerged in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. Such an imagination of Australia as a nation did not exist during the pre-colonial era. Contrary to popular notion, the concept of nationalism is abstract as it is premised on the western worldview of the nation-states. There are two histories pertaining to Australia and adoption of any one of the framework would mean adhering to a particular view of the history of Australia. One school of thought feel that the origin of Australia is related to the foreign occupation of by the British colonial settlers during the year 1788 (Anderson 1998). This theory of the nation renders the white colonial empire the agentic role in fostering nationalism. From this perspective, Australia may be understood as a young country. The history of nation-states all over the world dates back to the twentieth century (Pinto and Pinto 2018). The second school of thought on nationalism opine that Australia is an old country and this is because of the long history of the existence of the aboriginal communities that dates back to 40, 000 to 60, 000 years prior to the dawn of the British colonial empire on the Australian soil. This standpoint of nationalism emphasizes aboriginal ownership as a key to nationalism. For Anderson (2006) nation denotes the idea of the imagined political community where the nation projects the dual role of being both sovereign and limited and there is a feeling of communion- The term communion indicates that there are shared feelings over which the community participates spanning across the heterogeneous population and territory. The sense of imagined community is produced and sustained through the allocation of specific days as of national significance.
From the above mentioned argument it can be summated that the celebration of national events have different meanings for different communities. The origin of the nation state is a modern project and therefore all the communities might not uniformly perceive the notion of nationalism. The groups that have faced violence, discrimination and exclusion in the name of nation building would feel alienated from the history of the formation of the nation and therefore would not conform to the dominant idea of nation as envisaged by the majoritarian and dominant communities. The growing turbulence regarding the change of Australia National Day is reflective of such ideological foundation.
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Doherty, B. 2018. Australia Day attended by growing controversy and calls for date change. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/jan/26/australia-day-attended-by-growing-controversy-and-calls-for-date-change [Accessed 23 Mar. 2018].
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