Australia Day: A Day For Inclusion

As January 26th draws ever closer, I’d like to take this opportunity to encourage my fellow University of Melbourne students to approach the day with an open and understanding attitude. For some, it is a day of mourning. For others, it can be a new start in a new place.

I’m not going to tell you how to act on Australia Day, whether you spend it in celebration or don’t. But as you go about your day, I encourage you to remember its history. I encourage you to think about what it is exactly that you are celebrating, and whose land you are standing on as you do so.

For many, January 26th is not a day for celebration, but rather of mourning. For the original owners of this land, it is a day to remember the atrocities that have been committed against them.

The atrocities that have been committed on the land we stand on, to its original inhabitants, is an ongoing process. The trauma and dispossession inflicted on them has ongoing repercussions. The process of reparation does not start and end with one national apology. The fact that our generation was not directly responsible for the actions that happened on the day that the First Fleet first arrived on Australia’s shores does not mean that we do not continue to benefit from it.

Australia Day should be a day of inclusion, a day for everyone to come together to celebrate what this country means to them. However, in its current state, this is not possible for many, and my heart goes out to those who are made to feel less, rather than more, Australian on this day.

I praise those who have taken action to make this day a more inclusive one, including Fremantle City Council and the Curtin Student Guild. It takes courage to lead the way regarding an issue such as this, and even more so after public backlash. I wish that in 2017, moves to create a more inclusive national day did not have to cause such controversy. I wish that the Australian people did not value the continuation of something that had ‘always been this way’ over the wishes of people who have been continually oppressed by it.

I don’t believe that moving the date of celebrations stops us from being able to celebrate the values we collectively share. Values such as acceptance, multiculturalism, and giving everyone a fair go and equal opportunities can only be strengthened by an acknowledgement that Australia Day is tainted. The day on which the first act of genocide was committed against the Indigenous people of this land should not be a cause for celebration. This debate, about what we value as Australians and how we demonstrate those values, must continue even after the day is over.

Looking into the future, I also take this opportunity to reach out to organisations closer to home. As one of the most diverse places in the country, the City of Melbourne has a duty to acknowledge the atrocities that were committed on January 26th. I encourage the City of Melbourne Council to think about their own celebrations, and the ways it can exclude groups of people. I further encourage other local councils to look at the example set by Fremantle in creating events that allow for inclusive celebrations to happen.

These actions by local councils need to be built upon at a national level and in the culture of how we celebrate this day. For this reason, we extend our encouragement to create more inclusive events to Triple J. Many in our organisation were disappointed with the decision not the change the date of the Hottest 100 and therefore failing to meet their words of Indigenous support with their actions. We encourage the organisation to reconsider their position so that this event may be celebrated at time when inclusive celebrations can be held.

Over the coming year, UMSU will be examining what we can do to make this a more inclusive day, whether that be lobbying the University to make the day an optional holiday, or writing to local councils to voice our stance.

If this is something you also feel strongly about, there are actions you can take. Demonstrations are happening across the country to allow people to show their support. In Melbourne, the demonstration will include people laying flowers on the steps of Parliament House to respect Aboriginal ancestors. You can find out more about the event on Facebook:

Indigenous culture and history is the foundation that this nation has been built on, and at times, over.

It’s time that our Australia Day celebrations reflect that.


Yan Zhuang
UMSU President