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An Australian Reader on "Immigration Day" Down Under
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July 15, 2003, 05:00 AM
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July 15, 2003

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An Anonymous Australian writes:

Re: Happy Immigration Day

Here in Australia, our old national day "Australia Day" 26th January has been transformed into what is virtually immigration day with all kinds of celebrations of "diversity" and "multiculturalism".

26th Jan commemorates the day in 1788 when the First Fleet arrived in "Sydney Harbour" (actually Port Jackson) and raised the Union Jack at the founding of the colony of New South Wales, the first and largest of the British colonies in Australasia (six of which, minus NZ and Fiji, federated in into the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901). For most of it`s history Australia day was a commemoration of the British colonization with re-enactments of Captain Arthur Phillip RN hopping out of a rowboat, raising the Jack and raising a toast of rum to the King.

Because or despite of this, Australia Day was something of a non-event, just another day off. Anzac Day, commemorating the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli, Turkey in WW1 was a much more emotional and participative holiday. People cared about Anzac Day, Australia Day was nothing. The authorities in typical old Australian pragmatism would regularly reschedule the Australia Day public holiday to ensure everyone got a long weekend off. Falling as it does mid-summer, it was a great day to go the beach. No one really paid the formalities much regard.

Then in the 1970s the Aboriginal movement started `protesting` the day and renamed it "Invasion Day" and would hold  "Survival Festivals". During the 1988 200th Australia Day commemorations this was a big deal but the Aboriginal component was actually quite welcomed by most of the population. Since then Australia Day has been made a bigger and bigger deal, public money has gone into it on a big scale. It is no longer rescheduled to allow for long weekends away. The immigrant and multicultural component has been played up and Captain Arthur Phillip has been played down. He hardly gets a mention these days.

As a New South Welshman I have a pet peeve with Australia Day, all the other states have their Foundation Day public holidays except NSW. Beyond that as multiculturalism becomes more and more the central theme of Australia Day, and as the day evolves from a day off in summer into a high falutin` celebration of government sponsored diversity... I think the aboriginal label "Invasion Day" has a new meaning for those of us who have had something to do with Captain Arthur!