Comment

We need to look to the future, not our past, in search of a new national day

The startlingly mixed reaction to Stan Grant's speech on living black in a white person's Australia suggests the time is ripe to adopt a more nuanced approach to any celebration of national identity.

Grant, who made the point he was born as "fauna" because Aboriginals were not citizens, touched a raw nerve with his assertion the Australian dream was built on racism.

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Online comments in response are almost evenly divided between those who say his facts speak for themselves and those offended by any suggestion their complacency was made possible by crimes against humanity on a continental scale.

The controversy reopens the debate about the timing of Australia Day and reminds us that for indigenous Australians the First Fleet's arrival marked the beginning of an apocalypse.

It ushered in an era of pestilence, massacres, segregation, indifference and finally neglect that came close to shattering a culture that had survived at least 50,000 years.

January 26, 1788, was hardly a red letter day from the first fleeters' point of view either.

For Captain Arthur Phillip his sojourn at Sydney Cove was just a four year posting in a long and relatively distinguished career.

The 759 convicts, whose exile to the ends of the earth was the purpose of the voyage, had no say in the matter. Their immediate preoccupation was how to survive in a strange and barren land under the whips of a draconian police state.

Bringing forth a new nation conceived in liberty under the Southern Cross was not on their agenda.

While there is no shortage of people asking if January 26 is the appropriate date for Australia Day the real question has to be "What are the alternatives?"

America and modern France, both of which came into being at around the same time as New South Wales, celebrate their nationhood on the date of uprisings against tyrants. Our only contender, the Eureka Rebellion, just doesn't cut it in this company.

Other nations, such as Poland, claim as their day the anniversary of the culmination of significant wins on the Field of Mars. Anzac Day, our strongest candidate in this category, is already taken.

The only serious rival to January 26 appears to be May 9, the anniversary of the opening of the first Australian Parliament in 1901.

While inherently less controversial, it has the disadvantage of coming a fortnight after Anzac Day which would surely overshadow it.

A late autumn celebration would also rob a hedonistic population of a day off in high summer when the beaches are beckoning.

Given the paucity of suitable dates from our past perhaps we should be looking to the future to provide us with a suitable anniversary to commemorate.

Recent events have put the republican debate back on the agenda and there seems little doubt that if the question was put to a referendum with bipartisan support it would succeed.

The declaration of the Australian Republic would surely be a worthy national day which, by freeing us from much of the anglocentric baggage of our past, has the potential to unite all Australians, not just those with links to "the old country".