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Australia Contemplates Controversy Surrounding Its National Day

FILE - Jordan O'Davis, center, who is Aboriginal, performs with the Buja Buja dance troupe during the Wugulora Indigenous Morning Ceremony as part of Australia Day celebrations in Sydney, Australia, Jan. 26, 2020.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended the date of the country’s national holiday and has criticized cricket bosses for omitting the words “Australia Day” from promotions for its matches. The first fleet of British convicts arrived in Sydney on Jan. 26, 1788, but Aboriginal groups mourn what they call “Invasion Day.”

Australia’s national day is controversial because it is held on a date marking British colonization. Aboriginal Australians have led the charge for it to be commemorated at a different time of the year.

Cricket bosses have removed the term “Australia Day” from promotional material for matches because they insist it was a time of “mourning” for many Indigenous players.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, though, wasn’t happy.

“Look, I think Australian cricket fans would like to see Cricket Australia focus a lot more on cricket and a lot less on politics,” he said.

Australia Day has been a national public holiday since 1994. Morrison believes Jan. 26 is a significant date.

“It is all about acknowledging how far we have come,” he said. “When those 12 ships turned up in Sydney all those years ago, it wasn’t a particularly flash day for the people on those vessels either. I think what that day, to this, demonstrates is how far we've come as a country and I think that's why it's important to mark it in that way."

Historians say the first fleet of British convicts comprised 11, not 12, boats.

Mick Dodson, a celebrated Indigenous activist, believes the prime minister’s broader grasp of history is poor.

“He seems to have a total lack of empathy of the impact of the British coming to Australia on Aboriginal people,” he said. “There is no empathy there at all. It’s all about self-praise and aggrandizement of white fella colonization. He is very lightweight when it comes to understanding Australian history.”

Many Australia Day events this year are being scaled back or postponed because of COVID-19 restrictions, but the clamor for the date to be altered is likely to be undiminished.

Australia’s Indigenous peoples make up about 3% of the national population. They believe that high rates of unemployment, poverty and incarceration are the direct result of the dispossession and marginalization caused by European colonization that began in 1788.