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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn Butler-Madden

What is the Purpose of Australia Day?

Australia Day.

It’s supposed to be a day of unity, but more and more it’s becoming a symbol of the values that divide us.

Mostly we’re united on the idea of having a day that we can all celebrate together. The contention is the date and what it represents to our First Nations People; the Australians that were here for at least 60,000 years before a white person stepped onto this land we call home.

Like many Australians I’ve been thinking about this and trying to understand how we might move forward.

I decided to look at the official Australia Day website to see how they present it:

“Australia Day…is the day to reflect on what it means to be Australian, to celebrate contemporary Australia and to acknowledge our history.”
“On Australia Day we celebrate all the things we love about Australia: land, sense of fair go, lifestyle, democracy, the freedoms we enjoy but particularly our people.

When I read this, I had a moment of insight. I realised that this talks to HOW we celebrate Australia Day, but not WHY.

Why do we need to reflect on what it means to be Australian, to celebrate contemporary Australia and to acknowledge our history?

Why should we celebrate what we love about Australia?

We are stuck in the HOW. We’ve lost sight of WHY we’re doing this and why it’s important.

This is a classic case of not having clarity of Purpose.

This insight got me re-thinking the issue through the lens of Purpose. If Purpose can be a North Star for businesses and individuals, I wondered - can it help to guide a nation struggling with its identity?

I decided on a simple exercise – to look at it through the lens of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. It’s a framework that most people in business are familiar with, so avoids having to introduce new ideas.

Through the Golden Circle, Sinek makes the case that every organisation on the planet knows WHAT they do. These are the products or services they sell. Some organisations know HOW they do it. This is what makes them special or sets them apart. But few organisations know WHY they do what they do. WHY is a purpose, cause or belief. It's the very reason you exist.

Start with "Why?"

So let’s start with the simple question…what is the purpose of Australia Day? Why does it exist?

I put this question to a few people and here are some of the responses...

“Australia Day is supposed to be a day to celebrate those things that unite us as a nation and and to give hope of a continued journey together. It is also a day that reminds us that this nation was once the lands of Aboriginal people and we have a long way to go in reconciliation.”

"To bring Australians together from all walks of life to celebrate being Australian."

"I think we need it for our nation as a day of: 1. Stopping to celebrate what we are doing well as a nation and everything we are blessed with - in other words gratitude. 2. Reflecting on our past and what we are not doing well and how we would like to move forward and improve on this. 3. As a nation getting together and acknowledging our multiculturalism and championing this."

To unite and celebrate our nation and what it means to be Australian, so we can grow together.

A few common themes emerge in these descriptions: Celebration, Unity, Gratitude, Reflection and Acknowledgement of our past. But we're looking for the one thing. The single-minded reason we do all of this. The one that stands out for me when you get to the very heart of it - is Unity.

Unity is important because it's the glue that binds a diverse community together. As a multicultural nation, Australia respects and celebrates our many differences, but if we are to grow well as a nation and as people together, then we must be able to recognise what it is that brings us together.

So Why does Australia Day Exist? For the purpose of this exercise and based on the responses I got, here's how I will articulate it in its simplest and most single-minded form.


To unify ALL Australians so we can grow together.

How do we best achieve this Purpose?

If our “Why” is the North Star that guides us, then HOW do we best achieve this?

Does the description from the official Australia Day website work here?

“Australia Day – a day to reflect on what it means to be Australian, to celebrate contemporary Australia and to acknowledge our history.”

The idea of a national day for us to celebrate and reflect aligns well with our Purpose.

What is it?

Australia Day – January 26th.

January 26th marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet at Port Jackson in New South Wales, and the raising of the British flag at Sydney Cove by Arthur Phillip.

Here’s where the alignment with our Purpose falls apart spectacularly!

We will never fulfil our Purpose to bring ALL Australians together so long as we celebrate our national day, Australia Day, on this date.

For the people who inhabited Australia before the First Fleet arrived, January 26th 1788 was an invasion of their land and their culture. It represents a day of pain and anguish. They know it as "Invasion Day".

Symbolism is important.

The sole significance of this date is to mark the coming to Australia of the white people.

There are plenty of other dates that would symbolically be far more unifying to “all Australians”. Here are a couple of the more serious contenders that align much more strongly with the Purpose of Australia Day:

January 1st. The date of Federation when the Commonwealth of Australia first came into being in 1901 and Australia, as one “united” nation was born.

May 27th. In 1967 on this day, Australians voted in a historic referendum to allow the Federal Government to make laws for Indigenous Australians, and for them to be included in the census count.

And on a more lighthearted note…

May 8th. Because it looks like Mate “May8”!

Alternatively, we can simply pick a date that falls during the time of year that we want to celebrate. We love our Summer holidays, so why not pick a date like...

31st January. A randomly selected date aligns far more with the Purpose we've defined here, than the symbolism of the one we have currently.

Until our WHAT aligns with our WHY, Australia Day will continue to be a day of division not unity. So long as its Purpose remains unfulfilled, we are missing a significant opportunity for our nation to grow.

Why do you think Australia Day exists?

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