UWA historian suggests moving Australia Day to May 9 to celebrate federation

Professor Jane Lydon (inset) wants to move Australia Day to May 9.
Professor Jane Lydon (inset) wants to move Australia Day to May 9.

A WA historian supports May 9 as a new Australia Day, marking the founding of the first Federal Parliament in 1901.

UWA Australian history chair Jane Lydon said coinciding with fireworks and backyard barbecues, a national debate often raged over the meaning of Australia Day.

And there were often misconceptions about the history of the day.

“The First Fleet actually arrived on Australian soil on the 18th of January 1788 but found the French already in occupation – so they moved the whole fleet around the corner to Sydney Cove,” Professor Lydon said.

“So January 26 commemorates the second landing – and only the male convicts were unloaded that day. The women were then disembarked on February the sixth precipitating what would have been a gang-rape scenario, the horror of which is unimaginable.

“So a more accurate name for the event on 26 January might be the ‘Second Landing of Male Convicts Day’.”

Professor Lydon said Australia Day had also been shuffled around in recent history.

On July 30, 1915, an Australia Day was held to raise funds for the World War I effort.

Australia’s landing at Gallipoli earlier that year was to launch the commemoration of another national day: Anzac Day on April 25.

Other colonies commemorated their own imperial foundations. In WA, Foundation Day on June 1 marked the arrival of white settlers in 1829.

In 1935, all states adopted a common date and name for Australia Day – January 26 – and by the 1940s a national public holiday was in place.

“Since 1938 however, Aboriginal Australians have pointed out that, from their perspective, the arrival of the British is not a cause for celebration: on the contrary, it ushered in an era of dispossession,” she said.

“We now know that indigenous Australians had been in possession for at least 60,000 years.

“If we wish to include the First Australians we must acknowledge that for them the arrival of the First Fleet is a day of mourning.

“I vote for an Australia Day date of May 9, the day in 1901 when the first Federal Parliament House was founded in Melbourne – this more accurately marks the moment of shared nationhood.”

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