An ode to the 27th of January
The 27th of January is an important day in the Australian calendar. As the fog rises from the Christmas break and the last public holiday for at least eight weeks, this date marks the resumption of business as usual, the start of the new year proper. It is also the moment when millions of Australians breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the divisive and tiresome debate about the date of Australia Day will now subside for another 358 days, give or take.
The 27th of January is the day after the day when, in 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip sailed into into Sydney Cove and planted a British flag. Trailing behind him was a fleet of 11 ships carrying an assortment of convicts, civil officers and free settlers, the first members of a new colonial outpost that would ultimately become the nation state of Australia. Watching the arrival from the shore were the land’s indigenous human inhabitants, custodians of more than 40,000 years of continuous culture and occupation.
Long recognised as the anniversary of the colony’s foundation, the day before the 27th of January was in 1935 adopted by all states and territories as Australia’s national day of celebration. For many years, most Australians were happy with this arrangement. Australia Day was a day of national pride and innocent celebration, a day to have a barbecue, drink some beer, listen to the Hottest 100 countdown and play some beach or backyard cricket — often all at the same time. But now, as the country has finally began to confront some of the darker chapters of its colonial past, the 26th of January is losing its lustre as a day when such simple pleasures can be enjoyed, let alone pursued in the name of national pride. It turns out that it is rather difficult to drink beer, play cricket and enjoy the last year’s top songs while at the same time contemplating the country’s legacy of dispossession and genocide against its first peoples. (Indeed, Triple J moved its Hottest 100 countdown from Australia Day to the fourth weekend of January in 2018, and this year Cricket Australia chose not to mention Australia Day in its promotion of matches held on 26 January.)
And so, in the third decade of the 20th century, the 27th of January is now the day after tens of thousands of people partake in Invasion Day rallies to plead for meaningful reconciliation and to advocate changing the date of the national day, or to abolish it altogether. The 27th is the day after a day of exasperated commentary about the recipients of Australia Day honours, which in 2015 included Prince Phillip, inexplicably knighted by the then prime minister, Toby Abbott; and which this year included Margaret Court, whose legacy as one of the greatest ever tennis players has in recent times been overshadowed by her outspoken and controversial views about homosexuality, gay marriage and transgender people. In short, the 27th of January is the day after a wave of difficult, awkward, and at times ugly public debate peaks and subsides. Until next year. Continue reading The day after the week before: mapping the Twitter discourse about Australia day