Thursday, January 25, 2007

Australia Day, 26th January

The 26th January is the day we celebrate the birth of our nation. We call it Australia Day. It's a day filled with all kinds of celebrations and special sporting events across Australia. It's the day we honour all that is good in Australia and recommit to making it a better country in the future. This afternoon I will be joining the crowds celebrating in Queensland.

On January 26th 1788 the First Fleet arrived at Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour). Captain Arthur Phillip unfurled the British flag and claimed New South Wales to be a colony of England. Eleven ships brought a total of 756 convicts (564 male, 192 female), 550 officers/marines/ship crew and their families. Australia's First Fleet - 1788 provides an interesting account.

Sydney Harbour is indeed a magnificent harbour. Captain Arthur Phillip got it right when he chose to move on from Botany Bay and anchor in Sydney Cove. Today, when I fly back to Sydney and sight that iconic duo of Harbour Bridge and Opera House from the air, a wave of excitement and nostalgia washes over me. Sydney is the city of my birth. I love my country Australia. The words of Dorothea Mackellar's My Country resonates with me

"I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains,
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel sea,
Her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me."

But what do the Indigenous people think of Australia Day? Britain established a colony at Sydney Cove without consent and without negotiating with the original inhabitants. Colonisation, dispossession from their lands and forced marginalisation has deprived Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of opportunities taken for granted by other citizens. They are among the most disadvantaged people in Australian society today.

Australia Day is a day to reflect on the Indigenous people of Australia and consider how we can best bring the country closer to reconciliation.

Reconciliation Australia recognises the special place and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians, values their participation and provides equal life chances for all. National Reconciliation Week provides a special focus for nationwide reconciliation activities.

It is heartening to note that Indigenous Youth Advocate, Tania Major, was awarded Young Australian of the Year, 2007.

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