Professor Henry Reynolds

Eminent historian & author Henry Reynolds outlines a case for changing the date of Australia Day

Australia Day should be celebrated on May 9, eminent historian and author Professor Henry Reynolds told a packed audience in Hobart last night.

Professor Reynolds presented a public talk for the Institute for the Study of Social Change titled Political Correctness or Common Sense? The Australia Day Controversy.

Watch online via livestream.

“Those events in the early days of Sydney (after the arrival of the British First Fleet on January 26, 1788) represented a vast injustice and egregious inequality,” Professor Reynolds concluded. “Why ever on earth do so many otherwise well-meaning Australians cling to Australia Day on that date? Why ever do they want to commemorate and celebrate it with all the heedless hedonism of a summer holiday?”

The debate over Australia Day is playing out in council chambers across the country, with the Hobart City Council among those formally supporting the campaign to change the date.

Professor Reynold’s lecture explored the confusion among many Australians about the reason January 26 was chosen in the first place and outlined historical and legal arguments for changing the date.

When asked by an audience member which date should be chosen as an alternative, Professor Reynolds said May 9 was ideal as it was the date in 1901 on which Australia’s federal parliament was founded in Melbourne, as well as the date of the opening of Old Parliament House in Canberra in 1927 and also the date on which the new Parliament House was opened in 1988.

“I would choose the ninth of May because this is recognising an achievement in Australia, not the achievement of the British getting their ships here,” Professor Reynolds said. He said a May 9 Australia would recognise the establishment “of the most important democracies in the world”.

Watch Professor Reynolds’ talk.

Institute for the Study of Social Change director Richard Eccleston said he believed political leaders were not in tune with community desires on the issue of Australia Day.

“We are, as a community, happy to contemplate, discuss and debate and embrace change,” Professor Eccleston said. “I think that’s why it’s been local governments and communities leading the push in terms of the debate (over Australia Day). Change is being pushed by the grassroots and the community.”

Professor Henry Reynolds is an eminent historian, best-selling author and public commentator. In 1998 Professor Reynolds was elected as one of the National Trust’s 100 National Living Treasures, in 2000 he was named as Australian Humanist of the Year, and he was the 2015 Tasmanian Senior Citizen of the Year.

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