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Henry Reynolds: That day again

Historian Henry Reynolds comments in John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations blog (24.8.17) on the resurfacing of debate and contention over Australia’s national day being celebrated on the 26th of January.

‘Controversy about Australia Day intensifies. The ABC’s Triple J is consulting its listeners about moving the popular Hottest 100 Countdown from January 26th. Debate is taking place in council chambers across the country. Melbourne’s Yarra Council was savaged by Prime Minister Turnbull in parliament last week because the councillors had decided to cancel official ceremonies on January 26. But this week neighbouring Darebin Council voted 6 to 2 to follow suit to be similarly chastised by the federal government.

‘The heated rhetoric notwithstanding there is much public confusion about what is at stake. With Malcolm Turnbull leading the assault the defenders of the status quo accuse their opponents of being unpatriotic and not being committed to Australian values. There is of course no evidence that those who seek a new date are against the idea of a distinctive national day. It’s not the ceremony they resist but its location on the calendar. The same observation holds true for a great many of those who currently support January 26th. They want to join in public affirmation and would do so just as readily on another day.

‘… Big questions therefore press upon us. Why do so many prominent Australians want to go on celebrating events which had such disastrous consequences? How is it possible to argue, as Malcolm Turnbull did last week in parliament, that January 26 is a date which is infused with Australian values? Clearly we can identify and empathise either with the predators or the victims; with the agents of British Imperialism or the besieged first nations. If the first is it because we don’t react as though indigenous Australian really are our countrymen and women, our compatriots? Are there then deeper forces at play? Has Australia been unable to complete the process of de-colonization and still lives in the shadow of a derelict empire? Otherwise why would we want to commemorate its predatory descent on our own first nations?’

Henry Reynolds delivering 2017 International Day of Peace lecture

Presented by the Queensland branch of the United Nations Association of Australia, the annual International Day of Peace lecture will be delivered by Professor Henry Reynolds, speaking about ‘Australia’s Unnecessary Wars’. The lecture will be held at St John’s Cathedral in Ann St, Brisbane, on Thursday 21 September at 7pm.

For details, and to RSVP to the event, follow the link below.

The politics of public monuments: it’s time Australians looked at what, and whom, we commemorate

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles writes in The Conversation (24.8.17) that many of our public commemorations honour people and incidents that brought great harm to others.

‘Recent events in the US have seen Confederate Civil War monuments pulled down and painful histories revisited. Comparing these acts to those of the Islamic State terror group, Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill evocatively called this an “Orwellian war on history” and a “Year Zero mentality” on the march.

‘O’Neill also took aim at Australia’s Yarra Council for its recent decision to no longer celebrate Australia Day on January 26. This a result of ongoing calls from Indigenous groups to change the date of the national day. This is because it marks the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet at Botany Bay and is thus, in their view, “invasion day”.

‘O’Neill is wrong. It is not a matter of erasing history but a question of whose history is told. In Australia, it has been called the “the Great Australian silence”, following W.E.H. Stanner, as we stubbornly refuse to tackle these issues.

‘Yet as events in the US demonstrate, there is significance in what is deemed worthy to cast in bronze and erect in public spaces. It matters what events are commemorated and celebrated. It may mark power and domination or it may mark diversity and inclusion.

‘The events in the US have made some look at Australia as a similar settler-colonial state, and ask which of our monuments might come down. From First Dog on the Moon to the ABC’s Indigenous affairs editor and Wiradjuri man Stan Grant, Australians are asking themselves questions. This follows ongoing debates about Australia Day and whether the date should be moved.’

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