Tomorrow's date, January 26, has no real relationship to our unique Australian identity. So why do some troglodytes unreasonably insist it should remain the date on which we celebrate Australia Day?
January 26 is not "Australian". It's the date the First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove in 1788 and - later, on February 7 - colonised just NSW (later split into Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania). The western boundary was the 135 degree east meridian (the present-day NSW/South Australian border), because the British were afraid if they claimed any further they'd start a fight with the Dutch.
The Dutch owned everything west of the 135 degree east meridian after taking it from the Portuguese around 1575 or so. The Portuguese owned it because in 1494 the Pope drew a line down the globe and gave everything to its west to Portugal and everything to its east to Spain so they'd cease bickering (truly). January 26 doesn't seem to be a very "Australian" date if Western Australia and South Australia aren't included because they belonged to the Dutch. Britain only risked Dutch opprobrium to prevent a French claim, by claiming Western Australia in 1827. South Australia was last in 1836. Even with all the colonies founded, they still weren't "Australian". They were functionally separate countries.
"Australia" didn't exist until Federation on January 1, 1901. Nonetheless, this date is unsuitable. One, we already have a public holiday then. Two, First Australians were explicitly excluded by the constitution. Third, we were still run by Britain - they could strike down our laws, and their Privy Council was our highest court. It doesn't seem very "Australian" if all Australians aren't included and a foreign country has power over us.
Britain wanted rid of its power to strike down laws, and so passed the Statute of Westminster in 1931. Anglophiles that we are, Australia did not ratify this until 1942 (when Britain abandoned us to Japan). A step toward being truly Australian, but not a finished journey. Our highest court was still the Privy Council, and, despite the Statute of Westminster, Britain could still strike down state laws.
The next step was the 1967 referendum. It repealed section 127 of the constitution, the result being that First Australians were finally included in the term "Australians". But Britain still had power over us. And, more importantly, both May 27 and August 10 (the referendum and the actual repeal) are bad dates for a public holiday, because they're too cold.
Still, British power remained. Appeals to the Privy Council were abolished from the High Court in 1975, but still existed from state courts, and state laws could be struck down. About 10 years later Australia finally sought to be its own properly independent country. It was, however, not actually clear who had the authority to make Australia independent. The solution was that the Australian and United Kingdom parliaments would pass legislation to come into force at the same time. These pieces of legislation, the Australia Acts, removed all appeals to the Privy Council, and removed any ability for Britain to affect Australia with legislation. There was a fancy ceremony at Government House where our Queen herself proclaimed the Australia Acts would come into force at 4pm on March 3, 1986. At last, Australia was only and uniquely Australian!
[Some might argue that with the Queen as head of state we're not solely Australian. This is rubbish. Our Queen is the Queen of Australia. That she dedicates all her time to helping lead an impoverished foreign nation testifies only to her nobility of character.]
From that day, Australia was no longer subject to a foreign power, all Australians were included, and - by far the most important criterion - the date is perfect for a public holiday. The weather is still nice. We're not holidayed out from Christmas. It's not too near any other public holidays. It's perfect.
So March 3 for Australia Day it is. Carry on.
Christopher Budd is an ordinary person living in Canberra. This includes full-time work, part-time study (law), going to church and parenting his three children.