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Opinion And World View: Wattle Day - The First of September

"I am one of many Australians who find it impossible to celebrate national unity on Australia Day, the 26th of January - a day that divides the nation between the Indigenous survivors of invasion and those who inherited the spoils of their dispossession,'' declares Paul W Newbury.

I believe we should choose a day other than the day the First Fleet landed in Sydney Harbour to celebrate Australia Day and I propose Wattle Day, the first of September as ideal for this purpose.

The antipathy of the Indigenous peoples to Australia Day as a day of celebration is deeply entrenched. In the past, they have marked the day as an occasion to publicise their grievances against the dominant society.

In 1938, Aboriginal people commemorated the sesquicentenary as a Day of Mourning and Protest organised by William Ferguson, Jack Patten and Pearl Gibbs of the Aborigines Progressive Association. In a manifesto entitled Aborigines Claim Citizenship Rights, they asserted that 150 years of so-called progress for non-Aboriginal Australians was for them a century and a half of degradation and denial of basic human rights.

In 1972, Aboriginal land rights activists set up the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawn of Parliament House in Canberra on Australia Day in response to the refusal of the McMahon Coalition Government to consider their demand for land rights. This was a highly original protest and the notion of 'embassy' implied the alien status of Indigenous peoples in their own land.

In 2013, Australia is a far different nation to what it was then and Indigenous movements have played their part in building a better society.

When I ponder on being Australian, I think of the natural beauty of Australia and the Indigenous peoples whose cultures adorn the island continent. We are a diverse people in a diverse land and these are aspects of our identity we can celebrate as a nation.

I think too of the Mabo decision of High Court of Australia in 1992 that has led to major reform especially in recent times as state and federal governments have shown they are prepared to work with Indigenous peoples to resolve native title issues through mediation.

The Australian floral emblem is acacia pycnantha—Golden Wattle. Wattle as a symbol offers something to Indigenous peoples because it is native to this place rather than being a memorial of our ties with Great Britain.

Henry Lawson wrote of wattle as a symbol of Australia and of being Australian. Wattle Day is the first day of spring down under that marks us as unique from northern hemisphere countries like Great Britain and it heralds new growth.

Lawson likened the power of wattle to that of the shamrock, thistle and rose of the British Isles. Wattle is a unifying symbol and some of its 900 species grow in every state and territory. Its profusion is a sign of fertility for a growing nation.

As a symbol of nature, it is a sign of the depth of feeling Indigenous people have for their land. Their ecological practices are an outcome of their relations of kinship with the natural world and they contribute a great deal to land management across Australia based on their eco-knowledge.

There are a wide range of cooperative activities between Indigenous groups, government and industry extending from World Heritage Areas like the Great Barrier Reef, the rainforests of the Daintree, to parts of the country where Aboriginal people are the only presence.

Consequently, I believe that in the spirit of reconciliation, we should choose another day and date for Australia Day and I nominate Wattle Day on the first day of September for that purpose. I also advocate that we amend the Australian Constitution to acknowledge Australia’s Indigenous Peoples as First Peoples of Australia.

We should commit ourselves to a reconciled and renascent Australia by becoming a republic. A republic fits the theme of reconciliation and renascence, and so does wattle. Wattles are pioneer plants that are the first to rise from the ashes of bushfires. September 1 is national Wattle Day and the national floral emblem is acacia pyenantha - Golden Wattle.

I believe wattle as a symbol implies that non-Indigenous Australians have undergone a process of becoming naturalised to this continent and the next steps on our journey are reconciliation and a republic. So, when we come to consider a foundation day other than January 26th, Wattle Day is a great fit.

Australia does not need a British monarch—we are an independent nation and it is fitting that we articulate our place in the world where we live. Australia is a nation in the southern hemisphere where September 1 is the first day of spring. This fits the theme of renascence down under.

Essential to the republican process is that the preamble to the constitution acknowledges Indigenous peoples as First Peoples. To link the republic to the reconciliation process is a powerful statement by non-Indigenous Australians to the worth we place on our Indigenous Peoples.

Polling indicates that around 60 percent of Australians support an Australian republic. This indicates that the issue is relevant and it lingers in the consciousness of Australians as something to be resolved in the future.

Author of This Country: a Reconciled Republic (2004), historian Mark McKenna believes the republican movement in 1999 failed because it focused almost entirely on how a president might be elected rather than how a republic would project an Australian sense of place and pride in country. Undoubtedly, a referendum on the subject must have the support of both major parties.

On the first Wattle Day celebration in 1910, the Sydney Morning Herald declared: “Let the wattle henceforth be a sacred charge to every Australian”. Then, on 1 September 1988, Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen proclaimed Golden Wattle as Australia’s national floral emblem. Then in 1992, 1 September was formally declared 'National Wattle Day'


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