Monday, June 5, 2023

Jan. 26: Australia Day or Invasion Day?


Australians will be celebrating Australia Day on Wednesday, Jan. 26. For many years, it was a day of joy and pride when new Australian citizens were welcomed to the country at citizenship ceremonies.

Deserving citizens receive their Australia Day Honors on that day. Australians proudly join their neighbors at community festivals, barbeques, music performances, and participate in sporting and beach events. In Melbourne, the Australian Open usually reaches its climax when the best tennis players in the world compete for sporting glory.

But lately, Australia Day has been denounced by vocal lobby groups as “Invasion Day.” For them, it is a day of mourning, which provides an opportunity to advocate for the selection of another day as the national holiday of Australia or to abolish it altogether.

To appreciate how Australia Day has evolved into a day of mourning for a section of Australia’s population, we must return to Jan. 26, 1788, when Captain Arthur Phillip’s First Fleet, consisting of 11 ships carrying around 750 convicts and 550 soldiers, crew, and their families, landed in Sydney Cove (now Circular Quay) and claimed Australia for the British Crown. Upon landing, the British flag was planted on the shore and the officers, surrounding the flag, gave a toast to the King, George III.

Workers wash off red paint that was poured on a statue of Captain Cook at St. Kilda beach in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 26, 2022. (Diego Fedele/Getty Images)

Following the arrival of the First Fleet on that eventful and fateful day in 1788, the new penal colony of New South Wales was established with Arthur Phillip as its first Governor.

Nowadays, it is a cause of immense pride if a person were able to retrace his or her ancestry to a convict or free settler who arrived on the First Fleet. They are somewhat regarded as Australian royalty.

However, the contentious and acrimonious claim, that Jan. 26 should be characterized as an invasion day and a day of mourning, can be better understood by placing it within the current context of the racial “deconstruction” movement—a movement that seeks to change the meaning and relevance of traditional events, symbols, or projects.

Deconstruction can be seen in the imposition of critical race theory (CRT) courses in our colleges and universities. This theory is based on the idea that Australia is a racist country, and that Aboriginals are the victim of endemic racism.

The infiltration of CRT into the curriculum of Australia’s higher education sector is often paired with the demonization of Western civilization and allegations of ethnocentrism.

Also, statues and monuments of historical figures, who are considered to have contributed to, or benefited from, racial discrimination, are dismantled or destroyed.

The practice of historical revisionism has facilitated the rewriting of history books to suit the interests of those who want to pursue this path of racial deconstruction.

But in Australia, as revealed by online surveys, most people still want to celebrate Australia Day on Jan. 26, commemorating the birth of a proud liberal country and democracy, Australia. One would expect that this would be enough reason to celebrate, but the “Invasion Day” supporters have ruined what otherwise would be a happy and joyous occasion for all.

Epoch times photo
An inflatable boxing kangaroo is seen under a family’s shade at the Nepean River Reserve in Menangle Park in Sydney, Australia, on Jan. 26, 2021. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

There is no doubt that Indigenous Australians have been persecuted in the past, at times even exterminated.

The response to this inglorious history of abuse and gratuitous violence has resulted in the making of metronomic annual demands to change the date of Australia Day, or to abolish it.

This, in turn, has contributed to the balkanization of Australia, where attempts to unify the country are consistently frustrated by these rancorous attacks on Australia Day.

So, are there any arguments for changing the date of Australia Day, or abolishing it altogether?

According to one argument, the landing of Captain Arthur Phillip, and his establishment of administrative control over Australia, constituted an egregious violation of Aboriginal sovereignty over the land and destroyed the Indigenous Eora Nation that occupied present-day Sydney in 1788.

In international law, sovereignty can be achieved in several ways, including the effective occupation of terra nullius.

However, the High Court of Australia, in the iconic case of Mabo v Queensland, decided in 1992 that Australia was not terra nullius. That decision precipitated the adoption of the Native Title Act 1993 and spawned the land rights industry, now prevalent in Australia.

It is fair to remark that the concept of sovereignty was surely foreign to the Indigenous population of Sydney Cove in 1788. Sovereignty in international law requires a well-defined geographical area, a government, and a population. It is doubtful that all three requirements were satisfied at that time by both sides.

However, it may well be inappropriate and misconceived to rely on Western legal notions to describe the arrangements which existed in Aboriginal society in 1788.

Hence, it may be factually correct to characterize the landing of the First Fleet and the establishment of a new British penal colony as an “invasion.” But, surely, events that happened 234 years ago should not now be relied upon by descendants of the dispossessed Aboriginal people of 1788 for the purpose of incessantly making demands for the creation of a separate aboriginal state within Australia, the incorporation of what is now regularly referred to as the “First Nation” in the Commonwealth Constitution, the establishment of a Voice (a standing advisory parliamentary body with the power to veto legislation), or the various preferential policies dividing Australia today?

Epoch times photo
Protesters display signs at the Invasion Day rally in the city in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 26, 2021. (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

The question is whether Australia Day ought to serve extraneous functions by remedying the disadvantages still endured by Indigenous people in Australia.

Or is it simply a day that should unite all Australians, regardless of race or ethnicity to celebrate our common endeavors, achievements, and aspirations?

There is a perceived or real danger that the selection of another day as Australian Day, or its abolition altogether, would merely be a futile and meaningless symbolic gesture that would not improve the plight of Australia’s Indigenous population, or provide them with more opportunities and possibilities for full participation in public life.

Symbols are often just inadequate window-dressing substitutes for projects that would make a real difference in the lives of people.

The demand to abolish Australia Day is a backward-looking strategy, which, by itself, is incapable of improving the lives of Aboriginal people.

Australia Day is a day that should be celebrated by all Australians. Its characterization as “Invasion Day” is thus a divisive strategy that cannot unite people but will instead divide them.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Gabriel moens


Gabriel A. Moens AM is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Queensland, and served as pro vice-chancellor and dean at Murdoch University. In 2003, Moens was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal by the prime minister for services to education. He has taught extensively across Australia, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Moens has recently published two novels “A Twisted Choice” (Boolarong Press, 2020) and “The Coincidence” (Connor Court Publishing, 2021).


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