The only people who really care about the arrival of the First Fleet are the poor bastards who lost their country because of it.
For Australia's first people January 26 is a time to reflect on the bayonet, the poisoned water hole, the blankets infected with small pox. For the rest of us, Australia Day is just that last, much-appreciated day off at the end of the summer drinking season. A chance to burn a few snags and rack up one more skinfull before the kids go back to school.
The disconnect between our feelings about that date – the different way it is variously understood, celebrated and mourned by white, black and everyone in between – is reason enough to consider changing it. Not dropping it, just changing it, the date and the purpose.
The date is easily dealt with because most people could see a benefit to themselves if Australia Day were evicted from January and dropped into the calendar somewhere a little more convenient; say, at the arse end of the year, in the long dry spell after Labour Day.
That's May 2 here, north of the Rio Grande, and March in WA, Victoria and Tassie. A long time to go without a day off. Sure, NSW, South Australia and the ACT celebrate their worker's revolution in October, but they probably wouldn't consider it a burden being asked to take on another long weekend as the year winds down.
To the argument that there is nothing significant to celebrate with a holiday, comes the retort that the creation of a squalid prison camp and the opening skirmishes of the long and brutal race war that quickly followed perhaps aren't worth celebrating.
The things we celebrate came long after the prisoners were freed and in spite of the national shame we accumulated in the prosecution of that war.
Modern Australia Day means giant outdoor concerts, Top 100 countdowns, barbecue cook-offs, one last national piss-up before the work year crushes the life out of us, and of course citizenship ceremonies. It's these latter occasions which bring real significance to the day, but their meaning is not rooted in the hoisting of the British ensign and the toasting of Mad King George on the boggy shores of Sydney Cove, January 26, 1788.
The new Australians created every year, clutching their sprig of wattle and certificate of naturalisation, have often come from the worst places in the world. They don't need telling how lucky they and we all are. The truth of it is written in their scars and their bright and shining eyes.
If we mean our national day to be a celebration we could do no better than celebrating that freedom we have offered them and all who came before them. But if we mean our national day to be a celebration we will also have to do much better than holding it on a date that commemorates an invasion which all but displaced the continent's original peoples. Indigenous Australians have made great contributions to the civilisation which grew out of the gulag built here in 1788.
As artists, scientists, soldiers, as sportsmen and women, as teachers, leaders, poets, as simple citizens of a free country (once we finally recognised them as such) they have as much reason for pride in their accomplishments as anyone. We should invite them to celebrate this with us, but that is an invitation which means moving Australia Day away from commemorating our invasion and their subjugation.
If the national day is about so much more than the arrival of the white man and his guns, what is the harm in moving that day somewhere it can be marked without the burden of that history? Especially if we get another piss-up at the dry end of the year.