Recent polls on the contentious topic of Australia Day have found that many see the day as just another public holiday and are in support of a separate day to recognise Indigenous Australians.

Surveys conducted by Essential Media each year since 2015 show a slow but steady decline in people celebrating January 26.

The most recent survey showed that 29 per cent of the 1,000-plus people surveyed said they would be doing something to mark the day, a sizeable drop from 34 per cent in 2020 and 40 per cent in 2019.

The results also showed that 53 per cent of those surveyed saw January 26 as ‘just a public holiday’.

Marking the day Arthur Philip arrived in Sydney Cove in 1788 to settle the New South Wales colony, January 26 is not a date to rejoice for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Instead, many mourn Australia’s long history of dispossession, violence and trauma.

The first Day of Mourning was held in 1938, led by Indigenous men and women of the Australian Aborigines League (AAL) and the Aborigines Progressive Association (APA).

This set a precedent for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activism over the remainder of the 20th and into the 21st century, with Invasion Day rallies and community-led protests now a common response to January 26.

This long history of First Nations-led protest combined with the recent surge in support for the Black Lives Matter and Stop Black Deaths in Custody movements is reflected in the most recent data.

Protestors holding Aboriginal flags while they march
Flags on display at Perth’s Black Lives Matter rally, June 13, 2020. Photo by Hannah Cross.

According to Essential Media’s polls, there is growing support for a separate day to nationally recognise Indigenous Australians.

In this year’s poll, more than half of the respondents said they support a separate day of recognition, with 18 per cent in favour of a separate day to replace Australia Day.  

The movement to change the date has also gained momentum in recent years, most notably being advocated for across social media in the lead up to January 26.

In 2017, radio station triple j made a move to change the date of The Hottest 100 countdown in response to a survey of their listeners. Over half supported changing the date of the countdown.

Many have also recently commented on Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ability to change the national anthem but not change the date.

Activist and youth leader Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts has urged those who flocked to support Black Lives Matter in 2020 to keep the momentum and show up to their local Invasion Day rallies.

Public change of mind is a slow process, however, with the survey showing people over the age of 55 are less likely to support a separate day to recognise First Nations people.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously ruled out changing the date of Australia Day, saying on Thursday that Australia Day should be celebrated.

“It’s all about acknowledging how far we’ve come. When those 12 ships turned up in Sydney, all those years ago, it wasn’t a particularly flash day for the people on those vessels either.”

By Darby Ingram