The Case for June 9

Credit:  Wikimedia

Credit: Wikimedia

Every year we play the interminable battle between left and right over the matter of Australia Day. Is it a day of celebration or of mourning? Is it the anniversary of a beginning or of an end?

To be clear, celebrating Australia Day on January 26 is a remembering of the January 26 of 1788 when the fleet destined to establish a penal colony finally arrived on Australia's shores and the British flag was raised to claim the land in the name of the King. It is the anniversary of a group of British officers proclaiming the foundation of a landfill for the human exiles of the British Isles. This was to be a dumping ground for the unwanted whom the Americans were no longer accepting, having shaken off the shackles of London just recently.

No matter whether you are of British or Aboriginal decent, or of any other origin, January 26 is a sad day. Those of British decent are the children of the discarded and unwanted, or of the petty bourgeois officers carrying out the orders of their London overlords. The descendants of the Aboriginals are the children of the ignored and forgotten people whom the London overlords could care not less about. Moreover, imprisonment, dispossession, royal supremacy, and status as a 'Plan B' are not attributes one would append to modern Australia.

It, 1788, was not the beginning of Australia, the word didn't even exist yet. It was merely a moment in time when two civilisations made tentative and unexpected opening relations. Australia is defined by the relationship between its native inhabitants and its multicultural arrivals from 1788 onwards to today. 1788 is a nexus in time that marks the beginning of a new historical epoch for the Australian continent, but it does not form the nexus of what it means to be Australian. 

Australia is defined by its vast and unique geographical landmass. At the time of the arrival of the First Fleet, the full extent of Australia was unknown, it was a wilderness at the edge of the world. Australia was not a term that was yet fully understood because it didn't yet exist. No human, indigenous or otherwise had yet fully encompassed the landmass. That didn't occur until the 9th of June 1803, when two men named Matthew Flinders (an Englishman) and Bungaree (an Aboriginal Australian) completed a voyage completely circumnavigating Australia with the company of their ship cat named Trim.

The Flinders-Bungaree expedition was the first to outline the complete coastline of Australia, finally determining once and for all how far it extended. It was on this voyage, and in his later captivity in a French prison, that Flinders spent a great deal of introspection on what to call this landmass before arriving at AUSTRALIA. He rendered the name in capitals in the final draft of the map he sent to England. Hitherto known as Terra Australis (Southern Land), the continent had been given a name. It had been given a name and its borders defined by the joint effort of those two civilisations who collided in 1788, just 15 years prior, with a ship so badly damaged by its end to be rendered unseaworthy, testament to the cooperativeness and dynamism that forms part of Australian-ness.

Before 1803 there was no Australia. Only a large landmass with porous borders, explored only partly by its individual indigenous nations and expeditious Old Worlders. The confluence of the two made for the whole, and the nexus of Australia as a land for many but for one was made. The many maps from the many countries were combined to produce a complete map, and the effort had been made by the joint effort of the Old and New Worlders working together. This has from that time until this time defined what it means to be Australian. It means to be composed of many differences but united in love for country. This love has taken many forms and can be interpreted in many ways, but the only objective way of defining the country is in its geography, and that was done for the first time on June 9, 1803. The day the Unknown Southern Land became 'Australia.'

So for the sake of historical accuracy, spiritual renewal, and reconciliation, let's change the date of Australia Day to the 9th of June.