When Australia Day ceases to exist

It is the most divisive day on the calendar, so what happens to Australia Day in an independent Victoria?

Warm late January in Victoria, summer enough to still sustain full beach days.

But the sun drops orange in the western sky a few minutes earlier every afternoon, ancient laws of time and space immutable.

January 26.

What the independent country of Victoria used to call Australia Day.

A day commemorating an amphibious assault by Royal Marines on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation in 1788.

When the Royal Marines, most effective fighting force on the planet of their time, had made the initial beach head secure, other urgent business could begin.

These tasks took days to complete.

Convicts were unloaded at gunpoint from their floating prisons. These people ranged from serious violent criminals to the desperate human refuse of Britain’s rapidly changing economy.

There were dozens and dozens of women, many transported for little more than being poor and female.

They had been abused on the prison ships, and the rapes continued as their feet touched the dry soil of Gadigal Country.

The naval officers removed themselves from the depraved scene to conduct official business.

The standard they walked past would be accepted in what came to be called Australia for hundreds of years.

Drinking Victoria Bitter, but they’re being Austrayan mate in New South Wales

Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the expedition, quite correctly recognised the immense military potential of the vast and glittering harbour the Gadigal had lived beside for eternity.

So in the late afternoon of that Saturday, Phillip claimed possession of the land in the name of the British Crown.

Naval laws of rum and the lash formed the administrative underpinning of the British presence until on February 7 1788, the Colony of New South Wales was declared.

It was not a Crown colony like Nova Scotia, but a Penal Colony.

It would not become a Crown colony until 11 August 1824.

These differences matter.

On January 26 we commemorate the formation of the Penal Colony of New South Wales.

No mention of Australia.

Let alone Victoria.

Elite British amphibious military forces formalise the theft of Gadigal Country in what they called the Colony of New South Wales

The first few years after Victorian independence Australia Day felt weird.

In the lead up to the referendum, when it became clear the pro-independence forces were gaining momentum, there was a push from Canberra to celebrate federation with greater pomp and ceremony.

But who wants a big party on January 1?

When people were already nursing sore heads the idea of parades and military brass bands was not wildly popular.

And for … federation?

The thing everybody could see dying before their eyes?

Of course some Victorians still celebrated Australia Day.

Especially those who voted NO in the referendum.

Nobody bothered them, and YES voters by and large came to the family barbeque or pub session in good humour.

But because it wasn’t a public holiday in Victoria anymore, the tenor of the whole day changed.

Australia Day just stopped being A Thing in Victoria.

The last Saturday in October, the day of the vote that decided a state would became a nation, that was Victoria’s day.

But pubs would do Australia Day specials, bar staff in retro Australian one day cricket tops.

Kind of like they did for the Superbowl.

Or St Patrick’s Day.

The Shrine of Remembrance. Victoria will not forget the sacrifices we shared with Australia and New Zealand after we gain independence.

And we still shared solemn occasions with our Australian cousins.

Like ANZAC Day, when three nations; Australia, New Zealand and Victoria remember the sacrifices made in the murder gullies of the Dardanelles, the bodies of our youth sucked beneath the mud at Ypres.

Just because Victoria had chosen a future outside Australia, we hadn’t forgotten what we did together.

It was still a very difficult day for the First Nations people in Victoria.

Gadigal people had been the first on the continent to experience what British colonisation entailed but the men on horseback hunting clans through long grass, cornering them at the creeks later given names like Skeleton or Massacre, they came to the place later called Victoria too.

On Gunditjmara Country in the south west, the Henty Brothers made genocide a family affair.

But prior to independence, the Victorian Parliament had agreed a legally binding Treaty with the First Nations People’s Assembly.

This provided an innovative legal underpinning for the independence referendum.

Independent Victoria’s legal power rested in the sovereignty of the First Nations people of the land that the political construct governed.

This meant that when the demos at the Australian embassy got rowdy on January 26, Victorian police in attendance acted sensitively, with cultural awareness and restraint.

The Convincing Ground Massacre on Gunditjmara Country near what is today called Portland.

The Victorian Prime Minister of course attends Australia Day ceremonies in Australia.

She chooses her words carefully when she gives her speeches affirming the friendship and alliance between Victoria and Australia.

Words matter.

The Australian Prime Minister never quite knows what to say when he’s in Melbourne on that last Saturday in October for our day.

He always manages to either annoy us, or his electorate back home.

Victoria doesn’t mind.

We don’t actually take our big day in October that seriously.

Now in Victoria January 26 is simply another day, there’s 364 just like it in a year.

It isn’t Australia Day any more.

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