Australia Day, celebrated on January 26th in every Australian state and territory, commemorates the day British sovereignty was first proclaimed over Australia. In cities and towns across the country, the raising of the flag and playing of the anthem mark the start of official programs. Local officials deliver sunny speeches before presenting civilian awards to citizens. These formal ceremonies are followed by outdoor concerts, barbeques and fireworks, all of which attract throngs of revelers. On the same day and in the same country, followers of another narrative mark the occasion differently. Tens of thousands gather and march in cities throughout the country, protesting what they call “Invasion Day”. These protesters see the day as a government whitewash, concealing the pain suffered by the original inhabitants and their descendants. The protests and boycotts of this loud minority of Australians will continue until an alternative is found, a move most Australians oppose. This policy problem can be seen as a clash of historical narratives, with policy and narrative both shaped by ideology. Conservatives and progressives often see the past through a different lens, with each distorted view justifying certain policies. By tracking the clash of narratives through the legislature and judiciary, the link between narrative and public policy becomes clear. The era in which history departments blatantly diminished or ignored Indigenous Australians ended half a century ago. This change was reflected in policy. As a new generation of academics conducted and published research supporting the Aboriginal narrative, Parliament and the judiciary responded. New legislation provided Indigenous peoples the opportunity to own ancestral lands; landmark court cases overturned terra nullius to acknowledge original sovereignty. The problem of how to tell the national story is common to a number of western democracies. Efforts to change Australia Day, rename a bridge in Canada or remove a statue in Texas are just a few examples. Examining the interweaving histories of policy, narrative and ideology can not only shed light on how Australia arrived at the current predicament; it can be helpful for any nation dealing with a colonial past.
Slyman, H. (2019). The Date that Divides a Nation: Australia Day and the Clash of Narratives (Unpublished master's project). University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.