Changing Australia Day Date 'Just The First Step' For Indigenous Peoples

The debate around changing Australia Day intensifies every year. It's a January fixture as regular as BBQs, beer and beaches.

While many citizens and a small yet growing clutch of politicians push for the country's national day to be moved away from January 26, which is seen by many Indigenous groups and others as a 'day of mourning' or 'invasion day', other political types dig their heels in.

Despite proponents of January 26 saying Australia Day must be held that day to preserve national culture, the actual history of the day is only relatively recent.

It was only in 1994 that all states and territories marked the day -- the anniversary of Governor Arthur Phillip raising the British flag at Sydney Cove in 1788 -- as a public holiday, while advertisements from the early 1900s show 'Australia Day' had previously been celebrated in July.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed on Wednesday that "political correctness" was" raising kids in our country today to despise our history".

Labor leader Bill Shorten said he was "happy to keep Australia Day on the 26th of January" but wryly noted conservatives "get themselves into a lather about it" each year.

Elsewhere, Greens politicians will attend 'Invasion Day' rallies across the country, with many thousands of Australians to attend 'Day Of Mourning' marches, vigils and commemorations nationwide marking the country's Indigenous history.

"We need to do more than just change the date, we need to change the country," NSW Greens state MPs David Shoebridge and Jenny Leong said in a statement.

It's the same idea shared by indigenous activist and writer Luke Pearson.

The CEO of the Indigenous X media platform, his call last week for the conversation to move beyond simply changing the date of Australia Day went viral. Indigenous X, with tens of thousands of social media followers, is now pushing a campaign called Change The Nation.

Raising inequalities in health, employment, education, income and social outcomes between Indigenous Australians and the general population, Pearson said there were bigger issues facing his community than Australia Day.

"Moving an overly politicised and problematic day to another date won’t change that," he wrote.

He argues that shifting Australia's national day away from January 26 is just the first step Indigenous people should be pursuing.

He believes changing the date was an inevitability eventually, but that campaigns for equality should think bigger.

A protester at an Invasion Day event in Melbourne in 2018 (Photo by Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

"It's not enough. You can change the date, but I’m still not invited to the party," he told 10 daily.

"The campaign is gaining traction. We’re getting closer to doing it. Cool, but that’s the first step. History has taught me and other people that we have a bad history of doing a small thing, like the apology, which is good but then what's the second step?"

Some companies and brands are seeking, quietly, to remove their tacit approval for January 26th. This weekend marks the second Triple J Hottest 100 since the youth broadcaster moved the annual countdown away from Australia Day, after a listener poll found 60 percent supported a date change for the music survey.

Triple J did not explicitly link the change to calls to alter Australia Day, but said consultation had been done with the ABC’s "primary advisory body on issues relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, content and communities".

Former Triple J newsreader and Gamilaroi woman Brooke Boney hit headlines last week after her impassioned address on Australia Day, during a panel segment on Channel Nine, went viral.

(Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

"I can't separate the 26th of January from the fact that my brothers are more likely to go to jail than they are to go to school," she said.

"That's the beginning of what some people would say is the end, that's the turning point... A day that suits more people is probably going to be more uniting."

January 26 has traditionally been a big party day at pubs and clubs nationwide, but some have decided not to promote special Australia Day events in 2019.

An Invasion Day rally in 2018 (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

Some pubs in Sydney, for instance, are hosting their public holiday events on the 27th and will raise money for Indigenous charities through donations or sausage sizzles; other pubs brand their January 26th events  'long weekend' parties, without mention of Australia Day on their online invitations.

"A lot of people are hedging their bets in a way," Pearson said of this gradual and quiet shift.

"I appreciate people trying to capture the widest possible audience, so you have to hedge so you're not supporting one side or the other. They're not screaming from the rooftops."

Baker Boy performing at Yabun Festival 2018 (Photo by Cole Bennetts/Getty Images)

One event that will be held on January 26, however, is the Yabun festival, an Indigenous music and community event running all day in one of Sydney's largest parks, which organisers said: "honours the survival of the world’s oldest living culture."

The Sydney Festival will hold a dusk-to-dawn vigil from January 25 to 26, and others will hold a "day of mourning" commemoration with the history of such events stretching back to the 1930s, while other locations will hold dawn services of remembrance.

Pearson said he expected protests and conversations around changing the date to grow each year from now on.

"It's unfinished business. Changing the date is a very symbolic example of it," he said.

"We’re not going anywhere. Not just on changing the date, but all the things we’ve been pushing for since day one."

"They're not going anywhere."