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Asia Minute: Controversy of Australia Day

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Today is a national holiday in Australia. In fact, it is called “Australia Day,” and it is an anniversary that comes with controversy. HPR’s Bill Dorman explains in today’s Asia Minute.

Here’s the part that everyone agrees on—what happened on this date.

In late January 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip arrived at Sydney Cove bringing eleven convict ships from Great Britain and the first governor of the state of New South Wales.

Up went the Union Jack nearly 18 years after the eastern half of the continent was claimed by Captain James Cook.  But just like when Captain Cook arrived in Hawai‘i, it’s not like the place was uninhabited.  And for many indigenous people, that’s the point.  A sore point on an anniversary called “Australia Day.”

Some Aboriginal people and other critics call it “Invasion Day.”

This year, the city of Fremantle in Western Australia cancelled its Australia Day celebrations.  City officials plan what they call a culturally inclusive celebration two days later.  The Guardian Australia sponsored a survey of nearly 1200 Australians about the holiday.

Overall, nearly 70 percent felt positive about Australia Day.  But nearly two-thirds of Aboriginal people had negative or mixed feelings about it.

Asked for three words to describe Australia Day, the population at large chose barbecue, celebration and holiday.

The three most popular words used by Indigenous Australians were invasion, survival and murder.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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