Editorial
Join the Australia Day boycott

Last week, children’s entertainers The Listies contacted the organisers of an Australia Day concert in Sydney. They had been booked to play alongside The Wiggles, but had decided to pull out. They join The Saturday Paper’s boycott of Australia Day, a divestment from the date and what it represents.

The troupe had considered addressing dispossession as part of their act – “the court jester that speaks truth to power”. Ultimately, however, they decided that to take the stage was to continue the convenient inertia of a date that marks the taking of Australia from its First Peoples. They encouraged other artists to join them. “Although we aren’t against the idea of Australia Day per se, we decided that we really can’t play along with this show called this thing on this date. And it’s not really funny, actually.”

The Saturday Paper continues to contact artists and performers to encourage them to pull out of Australia Day concerts, to speak to businesses to encourage their staff to work the holiday, to meet with organisers and encourage them to reconsider the timing of their events. This is a boycott that recognises Australia will not celebrate as one country until our national day is held on a date that does not mark a dispossession.

The law firm Marque took a vote of its staff to join the boycott, and it carried overwhelmingly. The practice will now close on January 27 instead. “Apart from the social rationale for the change, we also think there’s an important issue of law involved,” managing partner Michael Bradley said. “Australia Day as currently celebrated is an anachronistic relic of the discredited terra nullius doctrine. In terms of the need to give proper legal recognition to the fact of unlawful dispossession which started in 1788, it’s important that we remove the symbolic suggestion that that process was lawful.”

The staff at investment fund Future Super voted similarly. “Our members have divested from fossil fuels and we’ve seen what this action has been able to achieve,” managing director Simon Sheikh said. “Extending this concept to divesting ourselves from Australia Day makes sense to us. We’re proud to be separating the day we recognise dispossession from the day we celebrate the country we live in today. If enough of us band together, actions like these have the power to drastically affect the social licence of Australia Day.”

At Loud&Clear, a digital agency in Melbourne, working on Australia Day is a way of changing mindsets, as it is at Floate Design. “We are calling on our colleagues in the industry to join us and make a stand. If we mean Australia Day to be a celebration, we need to do much better than holding it on a date that commemorates an invasion.”

The same is true at Nest Architects: “Like so many things, it felt like a date etched in stone, impossible to change. But it was simple, really... Everyone was like, ‘Of course. Why didn’t we think of this before?’ ”

And the architecture practice Kennedy Nolan: “We support the boycott of January 26 because it will remain on this day, perpetually offensive to the first Australians, unless the inertia of nostalgia and wilful ignorance are challenged by all of us.”

The politics of this will eventually be decided in Canberra. It will take time. But there is no reason to wait. Every small act of boycott will go some way towards changing the date, it will go some way towards making Australia a whole country. It’s a simple campaign and a simple message: Don’t celebrate dispossession.

Join the campaign at changedate.com.au

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 24, 2016 as "Join the Australia Day boycott". Subscribe here.

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