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Australia Day: pick your date

New Australians are intrigued by a peculiar Australia Day tradition: in the lead up to this national day, Australians debate a better date to celebrate it

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Even before Santa puts his feet up in front of the fireplace, returning from his whirlwind tour dispensing toys to children and spreading the message of goodwill and peace to humanity, a war of words breaks out Down Under.

It is about Australia Day – whether January 26 is the appropriate day to celebrate this, whether there should be an alternate date, or whether this day should be celebrated at all. As sure as night follows day or hot cross buns hit the shelves following Boxing Day, this annual debate will be upon us shortly.

In days gone by, at summertime, Australians never gave a toss about anything besides beaches, beer and barbies. But things have changed. Raising the summer heat a few bars, this controversy is of recent origin, getting louder with each passing year. Talkback radio, social media comment and Letters to the Editor columns are full of protagonists on either side, fiercely arguing their points of view. Thankfully (?) COVID-19 has kept it at bay this year. No-vax Novak too has lobbed it over the line temporarily.

Living in this beautiful country for nearly fifty years, I have come to like its laid-back attitude. Australians always liked the simple things in life – sport, drinks, burnt-out chops. But lately almost every issue ignites a fierce debate; not a day passes without diametrically opposite views heard on the airwaves or read off our devices, regardless of whether that issue can slip into defined black and white boxes.

First Nations people may, justifiably, feel aggrieved to call this day a celebration, while people on the other side prefer tradition not to be trampled with. Appropriately this time, the first salvo was fired by former pace bowler Jason Gillespie, who has First Nations ancestry, in a two-page article in SA Weekend as far back as November. Not having scored more than single digit runs in my backyard cricket forays, I don’t dare venture a face-off.

Also, being a pacifist, I’d prefer an amicable solution.

So I’ve come up with a few options that might help resolve the date debate.

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Every country in the world has its National Day. We do not want ours to clash with another country’s sacred day. So that will rule out some 195 days. Moreover, since people from many countries live in our multicultural land, it will help them avoid the dilemma of which function to attend – the adopted land’s Australia Day or the national day of their country of origin.  This is particularly valid for us from India as it coincides with our home country’s Republic Day.

Saturdays and Sundays are definitely out as these would rob us of a paid holiday. Another 154 days gone.

The natural choice is January 1, as on that day in 1901, Australia came into being as one nation. (Although it doesn’t exactly look like that due to COVID antics by some states). However, that being New Year’s Day, we don’t want to be shortchanged of a holiday.

How about April 1? No, for obvious reasons.

Now my options are narrowing.

How about my own birthday, the most important day in my calendar.  I don’t mind sacrificing it for a national cause. But the problem is, like every Indian, I celebrate my birthday twice in the year – the day in the Gregorian calendar I was born on, and the ‘star’ birthday which is a moving target. There being 27 stars in our cosmology, that day can occur within a range of 13 days on either side of the English D.o.B. (Confused? Don’t be – suffice it to say, it’s all guided by celestial forces.)

Ah! A light bulb moment. How about February 29? That way, the controversy will occur only once every four years, until a date acceptable to the twenty four million of us is found.

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