Samantha Siedschlag and Priscyla Rodrigues from Brazil enjoying the Australia Day long weekend at Burleigh Heads Beach. Picture: AAP
Samantha Siedschlag and Priscyla Rodrigues from Brazil enjoying the Australia Day long weekend at Burleigh Heads Beach. Picture: AAP

How to save Australia Day from the haters

IT'S time to face up to a hard truth. One that gives me no pleasure whatsoever. One I know will anger a great many readers.

We need to change the date of Australia Day.

It's not that I agree with the thousands of green/left activist protesters who have conspired to take the joy out of January 26.

Quite the contrary. When they march around behind banners ridiculously declaring "Australia is a crime scene" or demand that the country be "burned to the ground", as infamously occurred last year, I feel nothing but contempt.

A great many of those marching are the same anti-Western loons that rock up to every left-wing protest going.

Their Australia Day demonstrations at least do the country a favour by giving us all a welcome break from their tiresome anti-Adani activities.

But the damage wrought to Australia Day has sadly spread beyond these fringe groups.

A significant minority of the population - egged on by our national broadcaster - now profess to finding themselves unable to utter the words "Happy Australia Day" in polite company.

The seeds of division have been sown that deep.

A basic test of any national day of celebration is that it unites a nation. Can any of us honestly pretend that this remains the case with Australia Day?

It's a crying shame that affairs have reached this sorry state.

If any nation on earth has something to celebrate, it is Australia.

No other country on earth can claim the same beguiling mix of prosperity, opportunity and freedom.

No other country has the same lifestyle, landscape and cultural treasures.

If you truly believe this country to be the abomination suggested at "Invasion Day" rallies, then it's more than your pills you need testing.

Happily, the overwhelming majority of Australians appreciate their good fortune. In a poll conducted by the Australia Institute last year, 84 per cent agreed with the assertion: "It is important to me that Australia has a national day of commemoration and celebration."

But that same poll also revealed another very interesting fact. A majority, 56 per cent, also agreed with the statement: "I don't mind when we celebrate Australia Day, as long as we have a day to celebrate being a nation."

Therein lies the route to salvation. Almost everyone agrees with the need for Australia Day, but they aren't especially fussed when it is held.

And quite frankly, it would show a certain ignorance of history to be blind to why so many First Australians find the choice of January 26 confronting.

Yes, the modern world was always going to intrude at some point, and the colonial British were no worse than their contemporaries. This country would be unrecognisable without the nation-forging skills the British brought with them.

Women celebrating Victory in Pacific (VP) Day in Melbourne on August 15, 1945.
Women celebrating Victory in Pacific (VP) Day in Melbourne on August 15, 1945.

But for Aboriginal people, the road to today's Australia, to equality and opportunity, was for many years a very painful one.

The trouble with January 26 is that modern Australia has its origins in three sources - First Australians, the descendants of the original British colonists, and the immigrants from far and wide who have successfully integrated in the more than two centuries since.

January 26 is tied too closely to just one of those three sources.

What we need is a day that unites the country because it is of equal value to every background.

Part of the problem in this debate is that no one has yet suggested a day that comes close to meeting that ideal.

Most suggestions would either cause more division than January 26, or - like the proposal to use the date of Canberra's founding, March 20 - outright derision.

There is one date in Australian history that to my surprise I have never seen suggested. It was one day that history tells us that all strands of Australian society were united in joy and celebration.

It is also a day that marked a triumph over forces that posed the greatest threat this country has yet encountered.

Oddly overlooked these days, it is easy to make a case that Victory in the Pacific Day, August 15, was a key moment in the making of modern Australia.

It is very notable that every strand of Australian society was involved in that war effort.

Almost 40,000 sacrificed their lives to guarantee our freedom. Among them were many Aboriginal diggers.

Crowds celebrating in Bourke Street, Melbourne on VP Day in 1945. Picture: Australian War Memorial.
Crowds celebrating in Bourke Street, Melbourne on VP Day in 1945. Picture: Australian War Memorial.

I confess to being a bit of a nerd when it comes to World War II history. My wife's grandfather, who served in the Pacific, helped fire my passion.

It would be hard not to take a keen interest and feel a deep respect and gratitude after hearing first-hand of the sacrifice of his generation.

I have been reading a lot lately about the experience of Aboriginal soldiers in the war.

Although, disgracefully, they still faced discrimination after the war despite their service, it is reasonable to argue that the friendships they formed with Anglo comrades set the stage for the more inclusive and tolerant society that was to come.

It was not the first time indigenous Australians and other Australians fought shoulder to shoulder - some First Australians also served in World War I.

But it was the first time they did so with their common homeland under direct attack.

There are many days that commemorate our war heroes, most especially Anzac Day.

Quite properly, such days are in large part sombre and respectful.

The first VP Day, August 15, 1945 - a day of joy, patriotism and pride - was something quite different.

On its 70th anniversary in 2015, then prime minister Tony Abbott described it thus: "On VP Day, as soon as victory was announced, Australians quite literally dropped everything and spontaneously flocked into the streets. Church bells pealed, flags waved, bonfires blazed and a party began."

Which sounds like an excellent template for Australia Day to me.