The 26th January is Australia Day, which commemorates Captain Cook’s arrival to the southern lands, with 11 ships; and the first flying of the British Flag in Sydney Cove. It is a day that, on one hand, celebrates a nation, but on the other, a day of significant remembrance, of the near extinction of the Indigenous Australians.
While the majority of Australians use this day as a means to celebrate the Australia of today and its future, there still exist tensions. Some remember the invasion, suffering and discrimination against the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The 26th January has multiple meanings to the residents of Australia: it is Australia Day and it is also, for some, Survival Day or Invasion Day, a date which brings a mixture of celebration and mourning
The National Australia Day Council, have suggested that to be able to truly celebrate as a nation, there calls for unity, reconciliation and forgiveness.
“Our national day should be authentic and mature where we can celebrate and mourn at the same time. We can honour all that is great about Australia and being Australian, remember the sufferings and our shortcomings and commit to build a more cohesive and inclusive nation.”
While this sounds easy, Northern Ireland has proven many times that reconciliation is not something that occurs overnight and that the act of apologizing and forgiveness is much more complex than a speech.
Some Aboriginal people continue to protest and call for change while others participate in the celebrations and try to forget a past of negativity and celebrate the positives of being a nation today.
Irish Australians form the second largest cultural group in Australia, with 30 percent of the population claiming ancestry. So what is a typical 28th January in Australia? Many spend the day at the beach; have a barbie and a few beers. Others go to local ceremonies: breakfasts, concerts, fireworks, or wear patriotic clothing to celebrate their “Aussieness,” singing Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, OI, OI, OI.
While this national holiday generates mixed feelings, with regards to the Australian identity, it is a holiday celebrated by many Northern Irish people now residing in Australia, and likewise here in Northern Ireland.