Invasion Day: we didn’t get the day or date right

Jan 27, 2021

Writing to the Sydney Morning Herald Letters Editor, John Carmody discusses how we haven’t chosen the right day to celebrate the colonisation of Australia. So much for not changing our history.

It seems highly likely – and understandably so – that any “National Day” in Australia will be difficult for Indigenous citizens to accept.  Its association with the arrival of the Europeans, from whatever country, will always evoke traumatic emotions.

The precise date, which should never have been 26 January, is a separate issue.  It could, logically be 26 February, in commemoration of the landing of the crew from the Dutch vessel, the Duyfken, on the west coast of the Cape York Peninsula, the first such white landing here in 1606.

Or it might be 4 January, when William Dampier landed on the west coast of the continent (in 1688) and spent several days there, recording, in the process, the earliest European account of the native “Indians”.

It might justifiably be on 21 August, the date (in 1770) when, with exceedingly dubious morality or legality, James Cook “hoisted the English colours and in the name of His Majesty King George III, took possession”, in Manning Clark’s chilling words, “of the whole eastern coast … and fired three volleys of small arms which were answered by a like number from the ship.”

Yet another date might be Christmas Day, because it was about then that Phillip’s fleet rounded Van Diemen’s Land but it should not be 26 January because his entourage had arrived at Botany Bay from 19 January in 1788.

I grant that, seven days later, Phillip had decided on Port Jackson, hoisted a flag there and drunk the King’s health in porter.  Nevertheless, it was not until 7 February that, with the public reading of the monarch’s Commission to the Governor, the establishment of the rule of English Law, and the typically British humbug of the King’s injunction that (at the risk of severe punishment) the “natives” be treated well, that the colony was officially inaugurated.  Perhaps that day, with its salutary reminder that our sordid subsequent history violated that Royal Decree, should become our national day with its associated mourning?

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