Ho hum, Australia Day is hear again, and it's met with the same utter lack of interest. Rightfully so.
The central problem with Australia Day is marks the anniversary of an event that is so fundamentally contested that it fails as a day of unity. Marking as it does the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, its meaning resonates with only a niche segment of the population. The description of British colonisation as invasion is highly debatable, but the very fact that it is debatable detracts from the unifying forces of the date. Whether or not it was invasion is a moot point - the the truth remains that the question is hotly contested.
It is wrong to suggest that the problem is a lack of Australian patriotism. Misdirected as it may have been, the events at Cronulla last month demonstrate that Australians can indeed find great pride in celebrating their nationalism. Apathy in response to Australia Day is not merely a post-modern globalised response to the slow death of the nation state. The underlying patriotism is there: the challenge is chanelling it into a healthy celebration of Australian achievement. Blatantly, January 26 is not the right day.
Okay, smartarse, then when should it be?
In the long term, the right day to celebrate Australia Day ought to be the day we vote to become a republic, logically completing our movement toward independence.
Until then, there is a dearth of appropriate dates. Perhaps most desirable is one which commemorates Australian Federation - an event which is fundamentally accepted by all rather than hotly contested - rather than Australian history of indeterminant length.
January 1, 1901 was the first day of the Australian Federation, and so theoretically seems a logical choice as "Federation Day", a substitute for Australia Day. There is, however, the practical difficulty of overlapping public holidays, essentially depriving us all of one public holiday a year, and the fact that new year's day is hardly the right time for a patriotic celebrations, unless it exists to prolong the previous night's hangover.
As a substitute, then, I offer you 9 May. On that day in 1901, the Australian Parliament met for the first time. At present, the day is completely unremarkable and the anniversary largely ignored. It is, though, a significant date in the history of the Australian Federation.
With a date like this, Australian achievement can be celebrated in a unified spirit, without the gnawing of the conscience which greets many of us in celebrating Australia Day. True, an approach like this does paper over the cracks of honestly appraising Australian history. That debate ought to run its course, but the debate should be independent of the celebration of national identity that Australia Day should represent.