Mellek Steel

Don’t change the date, change tomorrow

While the discussion has solely swirled around whether we should still celebrate this nation on this day, the truth is that we have larger wrongs to right.



As a custodian of this land, I’m repeatedly asked a question. It’s always the same question, and it’s always asked at the same time of year. How do I feel about Australia Day, and do I think we should change the date?

I’m asked by those who expect me to support them – those who believe we should change the date because it’s Invasion Day. While it might be the date, I have no feelings on it either way. I can only speak on what I see in the streets of the community I live in; we should be concerned about the challenges of tomorrow, not yesterday.

Despite this, every year when the calendar approaches January 26, that discussion becomes paramount. As someone who has lived in the white Australian metropolitan streets and the black ones of regional Australia, I’ve noticed something telling. We like to think we do, but we don’t have the belly for transformative change. We like to think that we’re so close to being the equal of New Zealand or Canada, two lands that proudly wear their coloured traditions on their sleeves. But we’re not that. We’re closer to the United States. The opposition/support of Chris Columbus Day echoes the same conflict we have surrounding this date. Honouring of unhealed brutality versus a celebration of a great tradition.

If you can’t agree on which date to celebrate or which flag to raise, choose neither. Pick two. Have all the countdowns you want. Changing the date isn’t going to bridge the gap.

The common left rhetoric is that changing the date will start us on the path of healing, in that addressing our past will allow us to change the future. Which is a beautiful thought, but it’s also a denial of the realities of the situation. Back in 2008, Kevin Rudd apologised for the Stolen Generation. The more empathetic clapped and saw it as a line in the sand. However, in the years since, that line has been wiped away by the scuffling feet of the Intervention, Don Dale, the (ignored) Uluru Statement and the PM refusing to meet Clinton Pryor in discourse after we walked the length of the country to highlight the inequality that still exists. While the left may decry that is the doing of the right-wing, then why does it take their misstep to pull your interest? Rudd, for all his large words, didn’t band us all together the week after he walked the bridge. It was a great moment, but that was all. Don’t get me wrong, awareness is great, but we need momentum beyond the headlines. Right now we have momentum by the few, not the many.

What we do need is boring, unheralded policy. Progress without ceremony in Canberra, not towering empty sentiments echoed in the shadow of clickbait. We need to ensure the next generation doesn’t exist in the same way this does: behind bars, uneducated, poor health or at the bottom of the bottle. Changing the date doesn’t bridge the gap.

Per the findings of the 2017 report outlined by the AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare):

“On virtually any measure of disadvantage, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are over-represented, and this disadvantage appears to persist. For example, while educational attainment for Indigenous Australians is increasing, large educational gaps remain between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people(…) In 2014–15, 47% of Indigenous people aged 20–64 either had a Certificate level III or above or were studying at any post-secondary level—a 21% increase from 26% in 2002. However, a similar rise of 18% was also seen for non-Indigenous people of the same age, from 52% in 2002 to 70% in 2014–15. So this educational gap has remained largely steady.”

It’s a tough thing to approach. “How” is the most difficult part. How do you reduce crime and increase education? The clock is ticking. The victims of this impasse are the adults of tomorrow. It’s a needlessly complex issue. The general populace doesn’t know the answer, so they fight amongst each other, with either disparate sides looking to trump each other with the biggest symbol that produces the biggest headline, be it defacing the statue of Captain Cook or Tony Abbott saying that colonisation was the greatest thing to happen to us.

As the person in the middle, between the left and right, there’s an obvious solution. If you can’t agree on which date to celebrate or which flag to raise, choose neither. Pick two dates. Have all the pseudo-political countdowns you want.

To be frank, it doesn’t matter – and it shouldn’t be our focus.

We have bigger choices to make than where to circle on a calendar. Ours are death, jail, or worse. We need to escape this genetic treadmill and change the other 364 days of the year, where education and health is the rule, not the exception. We need to change the flow of the river. Changing the date isn’t going to bridge the gap.

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As for what to do with today. Australia is split on this, and will forever remain that. Accept it. People are always going to call it Invasion Day, and others are always going to wear flags as a cape. If we move it to a neutral date, the same division will still exist. It will just take a different form. Look no further than the essentially even split of the marriage equality poll. Despite it being the “only choice”, only 60% made it. It’s now law, but those opposed it still oppose it now.

The populist angst of changing the date is the same, except there’s no promise of meaningful legislation behind it if the majority supports. It’s just a date. It means nothing in the face of what we face.

So, celebrate if you wish. Resist if you prefer. Those who feel guilty about today, don’t. Feel guilty about tomorrow. To those who are serious about enabling the change that symbolic move would indicate, I suggest you start thinking about the next step, and the country, beyond the long weekend.


Mellek Steel

Mellek Steel is a blue-collar schmo who traded the city in for the bush. Alongside his inability to write a gripping bio, he's keen on fishing and whatever footy team is presently losing the most.

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