On the night before Invasion Day, all through the house…

And so, with a touch of the uncanny that aligns wonderfully well with the Rudd Government’s rhetoric on indigenous issues over the last twelve months, Mick Dodson has been named Australian of the Year this afternoon. Personally I think Dodson is an excellent choice, but there is little doubt that he is also going to do a bit of pot-stirring and cause a bit of trouble for the government. On the eve of the most ocker day of the year, a day when the anglo-nationalists among us can wave their banners freely in the streets and pretend they’re our best mates, the incoming Australian of the Year has wasted little time telling us that Australia Day is unaustralian:

Immediately following the official ceremony, Prof Dodson called for a “national conversation” about changing the date of Australia Day, which commemorates the landing of the first fleet on Australian shores in 1788.

“We have to have a date that’s more inclusive than January 26, which is the date that’s chosen as the landing of the first fleet at Sydney Cove,” Prof Dodson told reporters.

“Many of our people call it invasion day.”

Clearly Dodson’s tenure as Australian of the Year will afford him and indigenous Australia a number of golden opportunities to move reconciliation forward and push the indigenous agenda into the public limelight. Unfortunately, controversial comments like these will necessarily incite right-wing hacks and all their dimwitted minions across Australia to react quickly to condemn Dodson and his “black armband” view of history. We are in danger of restarting a number of lowbrow, misinformed conversations on Aboriginal Australia that we could well do without; conversations that should have been buried alongside the White Australia Policy decades ago, yet strangely still linger.

I am certainly not opposed in principle to the possibility of moving Australia’s Day to another day; perhaps one that celebrates our Federation as a nation. Why shouldn’t we rediscover and celebrate the modern history of our nation that has been gathering dust in the attic of public life for several decades now? The nation was officially proclaimed on New Year’s Day in 1901; so why not nominate the 2nd of January a public holiday and our truly national day, one that all Australians can celebrate? Alternatively, we could celebrate the day that the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 received royal assent, on 9th July 1900.

It is a shame that this is such a symbolic issue that is almost guaranteed to polarise Australians across the nation. Those with a skerrick of empathy and a yearning for a united Australia would understand where folks like Dodson are coming from. The rest, and I fear that the majority fall into this category, will no doubt view Dodson’s incursion onto our day of fervent nationalism as some kind of loopy black-fella joke.

ELSEWHERE: More from Mark over at the Larvatus Prodeo.

Escaping January syndrome?

Australia, and of course the political scene therein, certainly falls into a heady state of idleness over the festive season. Kickstarted by the end of the school year in early to mid December, the holiday season coma only deepens as a year trudges towards the explosion of colour, family and money that is Christmas. Those with school-age children, of course, are usually well and truly on annual leave by this point, and no doubt for many the scant few days between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve fly away leaving no trace. After the anticlimax of another orgy of orchestrated celebrations, soaked in champagne and assorted other fluids, one’s normal life slowly resumes. Some people stay on leave for a while longer, leaving often vital cogs out of the machinery of industry, pieces missing from the puzzle. It is not until February that the working world really threatens to return to business as usual. It is often not until then that the fizz of the festive season becomes a distant memory, rather than a particularly persistent hangover.

At the moment, there is something of a void in the place where “normal political debate” would be. The most dominant political figure in the country is on leave, along with several other fairly important ones. I get the impression from talking to various people that little could be further from their minds than politics right now. The cricket is omnipresent, and outdoors, sunshine lingers. One almost wishes that Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard would announce something really daft and out of character, just so that we could actually see how many people noticed or cared. Unfortunately this appears quite unlikely, with the Federal Government on auto-pilot along with the Opposition (who also have to overcome their irrelevancy besides).

It’s all a bit of a shame, because the start of a New Year offers our country’s leaders the opportunity to recalibrate and present their vision for the year ahead. Wouldn’t it be great if, on Australia Day, the leader of each of the nation’s major political parties gave a speech at the National Press Club outlining their immediate plans for the future? I am sure that most of us would like to think of Australia as a nation of innovators; a nation always seeking to advance the proverbial nation fair. What better opportunity for the nation to reach forward towards the future than its national day? What better way could there be to remind us all that our democracy is one of our most precious assets, and that we should be seeking to not only protect its virtues but to work to make sure that it is even better tomorrow than it is today?