From the desk of Roland Rocchiccioli – 26 January

January 26, 2024 BY

Bound for Botany Bay: The raising of the Union Flag marked the dropping of a curtain on the history of Australia’s Aboriginal people. Photo: SUPPLIED

If you will: exercise your imagination! If a hostile nation were to invade Australia and claim possession, and then you were expected to celebrate that day each year, with enthusiasm, how would you react?


I KNOW I would be founding lacking.

Viewing the 1788 arrival of the tall ships through the prism of 2024 is problematic, indeed nigh-on impossible. The British invasion was not hostile; however, describe it as you will, it was, by characterisation, an invasion. The white man took possession of the land which belonged to the black man.

It was not unique to Terra Australis. Empires were rising and falling; nations were expanding. Explorers were discovering the new world: ‘In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue!’

The book, Beyond Capricorn, shows an accurate geographic map of Australia’s east coast, proving the Portuguese explorer, Christopher de Mendonca, sailed a fleet of four ships into Botany Bay, 1522 – two-hundred-and forty-eight years before Captain James Cook, 1770, laid the British claim.

The Dutch and French were sniffing the coastline for years. The south-west of Western Australia has several French named localities.

The Brits came south after the Americans routed them! British jails were full-to-bursting; they needed somewhere to dump their criminals.

Always, 26 January has been a gazetted public holiday; however, it was 1935 before the nation agreed to the name ‘Australia Day’. It was not, in the 1950s and 60s cause for much celebration. In 1994, and for the first time, all states and territories approved a unified public holiday, regardless of the weekday. It was the bicentenary, 1988, which altered public evaluation of the day.

A vox populi of those opposed to a change-of-date might expose an ignorance of facts. Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s resistance and modus operandi is odious. It is time to stop the bloody-mindedness. The thrust of the bigoted opposition I leave to your imagination – or conscience!!

Now, I realise the apartheid I witnessed as child in the Western Australian Goldfields was no less than that of South Africa, at its most strident. It was rampant. While my late parents had no truck with discrimination, I am not sure I thought of the Wongis as people. I know not what, but they were something else. Natives…

They were denied their human rights, based on dignity, equality, and mutual respect. The perpetrated transgressions are too dreadful to repeat. Certainly, they are cause for serious reflection, and profound remorse.

Is it so unreasonable, so outrageous, to suggest we agree, mutually, on a day to celebrate – and not to mourn – the nation’s birth; a date which is acceptable to white-settlement, and the vanquished? We are, as a nation, quick to take umbrage if our sensitivities and sensibilities are trampled; yet, when it comes to reciprocating, often we are found wanting. Everyone blathers about political correctness, but little, or no, thought is devoted to civility and regard.

There is something ignoble in refusing to acknowledge an historical injustice. Collective guilt is indulgent. We cannot alter the past, nor should it be whitewashed. It is the sum total of who we are, but we can make amends; we can strive, with willing, to find a path to reconciliation. We can do unto others, as we would have them do unto us.

I am uncertain what defines being an Australian, but I know I am both uncomfortable and deeply disquieted by the 26 January revelries.

As a people, we are capable of better!

Roland can be contacted via [email protected].