Australia Day

Australia Day: Celebrate or Abolish? Pride or Shame?

29 January 2024


Do First Nations people celebrate Australia Day? Yes! The vibrancy and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures is celebrated by thousands each January 26 at Victoria Park, Sydney with market stalls, sports, and bands. Called the Yabun Festival, it has been going since 2003, with this year’s theme being “Surviving, Guiding, Thriving.” Norman and I have attended it and its friendly atmosphere many times.

Melbourne has a Share the Spirit event billed as “Coming together to heal with peace and love”, presented by Songlines Aboriginal Music. It is Victoria’s largest and longest-running Indigenous festival, with performances of song and dance at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

However, most capital cities also have protests led by First Nations people who call it Invasion Day, Survival Day, or Day of Mourning. Aboriginal protestors like Senator Lidia Thorpe, a leader of the Blak Sovereignty movement, declared at an Invasion Day rally in 2023 that there is a war going on that was declared on her people 200 years ago. Similar claims were made on Friday.

Cultural Marxists

This year’s Invasion Day event in Sydney had a new pro-Palestinian element since the increase in antisemitism in the wake of the massacre of Israeli civilians by the terrorist group Hamas on October 7. Melbourne’s Invasion Day rally already had that aspect last year, but now it’s on steroids.

The Sydney Invasion Day rally was organised by the Blak Caucus, formerly Black Lives Matter, and was endorsed by Trade Unionists for Palestine, PSA Unionists for Palestine, Socialist Alliance, Palestine Justice Movement Sydney, Health Workers 4 Palestine NSW, Communist Party of Australia, student and left green groups.

Their key demands are to abolish Australia Day, implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, end the war on black kids, i.e. forced removals, shut youth prisons, and cut ties with and impose sanctions on colonial, apartheid Israel until Palestine is free.

Teachers for Palestine in New South Wales are inserting accusations that Israel is committing genocide into school lessons. The pro-Hamas contingent for January 26 told the Teachers for Palestine to use the slogan “From Gadigal to Gaza: Colonisation, occupation and land theft is a crime. Our collective liberations are intrinsically linked.”

Real History

However, Jews are the Indigenous people of Israel, having been there about 4,000 years since the time of Abraham, with King David ruling from Jerusalem 3,000 years ago. Israel and Judah were invaded and colonised by many empires over the centuries. Arab Muslims conquered Jerusalem in AD 638, and today, Arab Israelis are part of the fabric of Israeli society, which is not an apartheid state.

The United Nations passed Resolution 181 in 1947 to set up a Jewish and an Arab state once the British Mandate finished. Jews agreed, but the Arabs refused, as they have done all peace deals since then to try to get a two-state solution. The Abraham Accords show that Israel and Arab states can work together, but the Hamas charter shows that it wants a one-state solution with all Jews eradicated.

So, there is no similarity between the Aboriginal and Palestinian causes, as the Jewish people are Indigenous to Israel and have decolonised it.


We do have the tragedy of deaths in custody, but First Nations deaths in custody are no greater than non-Indigenous deaths in custody. The problem is the greater rate of incarceration (and arguably offending) of First Nations people (9 times by ABS figures in June 2019). This has been put down to disadvantage, lifestyles, discrimination, and colonisation. Reducing this and reducing the number of First Nations children in care and youth in custody have been added to the Closing the Gap targets, and progress is unsatisfactory.

Of concern is that First Nations people, particularly women, are disproportionately the victims of crime. The strategies and funding of programs to Close the Gap need to be re-evaluated.

Anthony Dillon, Aboriginal commentator and honorary fellow at the Australian Catholic University, said in The Australian on 16.1.24,

“Let’s not disempower Aboriginal Australians by telling them their emotional wellbeing is under the control of a national day or celebration. If individuals don’t want to partake in celebrations, that’s fine, but they don’t have to suffer; the choice is theirs. Nobody is in denial of our country’s history; like all countries, there is the good, bad and the ugly, and there would also seem to be the fabricated.”

Dillon also points out that he hasn’t met anyone who, on Australia Day or any other day, celebrates invasion, genocide, theft, etc., but they celebrate that Australia is a great country and enjoy a day off. He agreed with Stan Grant in his 2016 Quarterly Essay that we shouldn’t make our history of dispossession an “all-too-convenient explanation for what ails us.”

Other prominent Indigenous Australians like Nyunggai Warren Mundine and Jacinta Nampijinpa Price have come out in support of Australia Day, welcoming those who have come here from other nations and made it home. A recent IPA poll showed that 63% of Australians support Australia Day on January 26.

I am the biographer of Aboriginal William Cooper, one of the leaders of the Day of Mourning on the 150th anniversary of white settlement in Australia. He petitioned for one Aboriginal member of parliament and better conditions for his people. He would be amazed to see 11 First Nations members of the federal parliament and the high standard of living of many First Nations people who have entered many professions. He would still be concerned about conditions in remote Australia, however, and so should we all.

I believe William Cooper would be dismayed at the Aboriginal cause being co-opted by the pro-Hamas antisemitic cause as he led a significant protest of the Australian Aborigine’s League to the German Consulate in Melbourne in 1938 to protest the Nazi persecution of Jews at Kristallnacht, the start of the Holocaust.

As we commemorate the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January, it is worth noting that Jewish people have been great supporters historically of First Nations people. Some examples are the 1965 Freedom Ride led by Charlie Perkins and supported by students such as Jim Spigelman AC KC, the 1992 Mabo case that brought native title with Ron Castan AM QC being the leading lawyer, and the constitutional recognition of Indigenous people/ the Voice with key roles of Jewish lawyers Mark Leibler AC, Julian Leeser MP, and Damian Freeman.


Image: BigStock

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One Comment

  1. Ian Moncrieff 29 January 2024 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    Lets CELEBRATE this wonderful country of “red dust plains and summer rains”, and one of the Great Southlands of the Holy Spirit. Our destiny is secure in Jesus.

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