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Australia begins moving away from its controversial national day

Ben Westcott and Keira Wright, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

CANBERRA, Australia — Top Australian political and business figures are beginning to distance themselves from the country’s controversial national holiday, amid growing pressure to eradicate a day marking the start of British colonization.

Chief Executive Officer Vicki Brady of Telstra Corp., one of the country’s largest mobile providers, said she had chosen to work on Australia Day rather than take time off out of respect for Indigenous Australians. Tennis Australia said in a statement this week that there would be no celebration during the 2023 Australian Open, apart from the playing of the national anthem in the evening.

The state of Victoria, the country’s second most populous, announced it would be canceling its Australia Day parade.

Australia Day is held on Jan. 26, the date on which the first British settlers arrived to colonize the country in 1788. It’s a painful anniversary for hundreds of thousands of Indigenous Australians, marking the start of years of killings and dispossession, and many refer to it instead as Invasion Day.

Australia is the only former British colony to celebrate the start of colonization as its national day.

A spokesperson for major department store chain Kmart, owned by Wesfarmers Ltd. — which has in the past proudly sold Australian flag tank tops and swimwear in celebration — told Bloomberg this week that it had been moving away from selling Australia Day merchandise for years.

 

Supermarket giant Woolworths Group Ltd. is allowing workers to choose whether or not they want to take the public holiday.

“We have provided our leaders with advice how they can support team members who are uncomfortable and would prefer not to work on that day,” a spokesperson told Bloomberg in a statement Wednesday.

Telstra’s Brady wrote on LinkedIn that the date was a “painful reminder of discrimination and exclusion” for Indigenous Australians.

“It marks a turning point that saw lives lost, culture devalued, and connections between people and places destroyed,” she said.

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