Let National Wattle Day end the Australia Day arguments

Today marks the first day of spring and National Wattle Day – a century-old celebration of Australia and its people. President of the Wattle Day Association, Terry Fewtrell, believes linking Australia Day with Wattle Day could unite the country.

Mark of progress

First it was Fremantle, then Hobart and now Melbourne. Something is stirring. Local councils around the country are increasingly calling for something to change about our celebration of Australia Day on 26 January. That date marks the arrival of the First Fleet at Port Jackson in 1788 and the assertion of British sovereignty. The reality of the date of 26 January for Aboriginal people is not going to go away. The question is how, as individuals, communities and a nation, do we best respond? The answer is more obvious than we realise.  

For some, calls for a change to the date of our national day are unpatriotic. Others see them as signs of increasing awareness and sensitivity to Aboriginal people. Perhaps we should see calls for change to Australia Day as markers of progress on our shared journey of reconciliation.

Link Wattle Day with Australia Day

Wattle and National Wattle Day, 1 September each year, can help us solve the conflict and sadness around an Australia Day celebrated on 26 January. We could link National Wattle Day, with Australia Day as joint days on which we celebrate Australia, this land, its waters and environment, its people and our nation. National Wattle Day would not compete with Australia Day, rather it would complete Australia Day. It would do what Wattle has always done – unite us.

Australia has several national symbols but perhaps there is one that more obviously unites us all. That symbol is our national floral emblem the Golden Wattle. It has been the great witness to the whole of the Australian story. It has been in our land for more than 30 million years. It has welcomed us all. It is a symbol that is as broad and inclusive, as its reach into history is long. It’s colours, the green and gold, are our national colours.

Activists wearing Indigenous rights defender tshirts at a Survival Day rally 2017
Amnesty activists at a Survival Day Rally in Sydney, 2017. © Amnesty International

Rather than let national celebrations descend into increasingly bitter argument and disunity, we could embark on a process, and for a period of say five years, let all Australians celebrate on either or both days, in ways that they consider most appropriate. Wattle has great meaning and significance and for those looking for more than just a ‘beers on the beach’ celebration, it teaches us and challenges us how to survive and live in harmony with this ancient land.

National symbol

In recent days Wattle has again begun its annual profusion of blossom and colour, lighting up our landscape and leading us through the change of seasons, from winter to spring, from cold to warm. In doing so it reminds us that our land is bountiful, that it sustains and enriches us. Wattle’s long presence in our land teaches us that we too need its characteristics of resilience and adaption to prosper in this place. Perhaps we could also see its blossoms as a metaphor for the land waving its flag to remind us to care properly for it. It is precisely wattle’s long presence in and deep association with the land that sets it apart as a national symbol and endows it with added meaning.

Meaningful national unity

Linking Australia Day with National Wattle Day would be relatively simple. National Wattle Day was proclaimed as a national day 25 years ago. Linking 1 September with 26 January would put the focus on unity rather than disunity and enable us to channel the various ideas and beliefs about national identity and its celebration into constructive and thoughtful proposals. In addition, existing National Wattle Day celebrations could be augmented by making it a day on which:

  • Order of Australia honours and Bravery awards are announced
  • local communities across the country celebrate our great fortune to be citizens of and sustained by the great south land and give special focus to its protection and discerning its wisdom
  • we could facilitate a form of national deliberative reflection by citizens on an issue of national significance (asking what is the right and best thing to do), as a way to draw on the wisdom of our people and the best of science and learning, informed by the lessons of living in this ancient land and the spirit of the land itself.  

These are just some ideas for realising a day of real, shared and meaningful national unity and celebration that would complement Australia Day. After some time, we would no doubt be able to create celebrations accepted by all in a united and reconciled Australia.

There is a way out of the Australia Day puzzle. Let the Wattle lead us.

Visit Wattle Day Association for more tips on celebrating National Wattle Day.

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This article was contributed by a guest blogger. This blog entry does not necessarily represent the position or opinion of Amnesty International Australia.