teach peace


Should we change the date of Australia Day?

William Ricketts Sanctuary Photo credit Margaret Hepworth

William Ricketts Sanctuary Photo credit Margaret Hepworth


A question that speaks to the heart of who we are as Australians. A question that is relevant to all nations across the globe.


Are we an inclusive nation?


Many, many years ago as a teenager in secondary school, I learnt in our History class, that the Protestant Irish celebrated a holiday, parading through the streets, on a day that marked an Irish Catholic massacre. Even as a young girl at that time, I could feel the lack of empathy. I wondered why they did this and couldn’t they simply celebrate their special day on another date? There appeared to be a lack of willingness to understand and resolve. The ‘victors’ dancing on a day of sorrow for the ‘other.’


I am a teacher of some 30 years now, having taught English, Humanities and Indigenous Studies throughout that lengthy time. Interestingly, one of the main focuses for our pre-service teachers, i.e. our next generation of teachers in Australia, is to learn to teach the value of inclusivity and to model this through their teaching methodologies.


Inclusivity is highlighted in our National Curriculum as being of primary importance for our young people to grow as healthy, well-adjusted individuals. Then surely we also need to look to celebrating this value as an Australian nation.


I recently went on a tour of so called ‘orphanages’ that held aboriginal children of the Stolen Generations, a period of time that ran (approximately) from 1910-to early 1970s. I am sure I do not need to tell you these children were not orphans. I was horrified by the tour; the horror came from the ‘what was still being said now’. It felt like we were back in the 1930s and that the prevailing attitude of that time was still being carried by this tour guide. I was deeply concerned and I don’t even want to refer to the words she used to describe Aborigines. She also presented some of the stories that were told to Aboriginal children to stop them looking for their mothers as though they were truths.


I want people to know that in certain places in our country, this is how our history is still being told.


I spoke privately with the tour guide afterwards, inviting her to listen to another way that this story could be told; inviting her into a narrative that needs to be shared and deeply understood if real change is to occur. Finally, I added, “You have an amazing opportunity here for real learning, education and for healing to occur, if you can open to a different perspective.”


It is my belief that we have this same opportunity for learning and healing by changing the date of Australia Day.


Our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, recently declared that local councils will be forced to hold Australia Day ceremonies on January 26, even if the councillors personally believe this should not be happening.  Many see this as an unusual and authoritarian stance. In my own experience as a teacher of many years, we would be better to apply critical thinking and utilise Collaborative Debating to open up the topic to exploration. In this way, we do not tell people what to think, yet we invite them to think.


Let’s be very clear, Australia Day falls on January 26. This is the day that Captain Arthur Phillip stabbed a flag in the soil of, what they had named, Sydney Cove. If we want to be pedantic, on that day they claimed the colony of New South Wales, and a penal colony at that. Not a nation, not Australia!


There is nothing pedantic in stating and understanding that this was the beginning of a genocide for the peoples of the British Government’s “Terra Nullius.”


If we continue to celebrate on a day that many of the First Peoples and others regard as a day of mourning but as a nation, we can’t see or understand or empathise – then that is an ongoing tragedy. Where is the inclusivity we are teaching, put into practice? It is time to change.

William Ricketts Sanctuary Photo credit Margaret Hepworth

William Ricketts Sanctuary Photo credit Margaret Hepworth


I have been running Collaborative Debating workshops over the past couple of years in schools in Melbourne. This topic: “Should we change the date for Australia Day?” is a popular choice. The responses from secondary students have been nothing short of extraordinary and I wish more adults were in these workshops to hear these young people talk.


I want to be very clear here – I don’t tell these kids what to think. We set up a Collaborative Debate, which has a framework that invites respect, listening and participation from all involved, including the audience. Speakers may even acknowledge that they have changed their mind throughout the debate. They may even apologise to the other side! And halfway through what are always very active, robust debates, we have a mindful moment of stilled silence, allowing new wisdoms and insights to enter the debate. Can you imagine politicians doing this?


Students have told me: “Saying sorry doesn’t mean we are ever going to change.”

What these young people understand is it is all about what the date represents and it will take a change in attitude for real change to occur. For most, they want to see the date changed as a mark of respect and so it allows them to freely celebrate all the wonderful positives about our country, together. Australians all let us rejoice.

“because of the damage it represents that none of us can ignore”

16 year old participant in a school Collaborative Debate


Some students have suggested, “Not changing the date yet changing our attitude.” They say we should keep this date but not to be celebrated, instead to “have it like ANZAC day”, as a commemorative day. Then to have a separate day of celebration, inclusive for all. At one school, after this same decision had been made, one boy put up his hand. He spoke vehemently, from the heart. He said that he could understand a commemorative day, and yet, with what had occurred through our history, the biggest way we could show we were taking action in regards to commemorating, was to change the date, “because of the damage it represents that none of us can ignore.” He received thunderous applause.


In all cases, the final decision from the majority of these secondary students was to change the date of Australia Day.


This year I want to walk the Songlines in Western Australia. I want to learn. One truth that we commonly forget in this country is that the Aborigines actually aided many white ‘settlers’ and early explorers. It is thanks to local tribes, that many of these people survived.


I am hoping they will now include me, teach me, and that in doing so I will not only survive, I will thrive.

Do we need to change the date of Australia Day? 

I believe it is a question that speaks to the hearts and minds not just of our country, but reaches out to hearts and minds across the globe, to any country who claims to value inclusivity, empathy and equality as values that pillar their nation. After centuries of colonisation / invasion, the ‘victors’ across the world are still unable to empathize or listen deeply. Perhaps this shows they are still carrying the hallmarks of colonialism, even whilst proclaiming we have progressed into a 'modern world.'

Inclusivity is a value that could change the world. I believe Australia has an amazing opportunity to be an exemplar to other nations with similar histories who continue to undermine their First Peoples or other marginalized groups.

I am not telling you what to think. Yet I am inviting you to think.


Margaret Hepworth

Founder The Gandhi Experiment

William Ricketts Sanctuary Photo credit Margaret Hepworth

William Ricketts Sanctuary Photo credit Margaret Hepworth

Speaker / Author / Educator Margaret Hepworth is an expert in teenage motivations & behaviours; a thought leader in peace education; the founder of The Gandhi Experiment;  an English and Humanities teacher of 30 years; author of The Gandhi Experiment – teaching our teenagers how to become global citizens; recipient of the 2016 Sir John Monash Award for Inspirational Women's Leadership; creator of Collaborative Debating ©. www.thegandhiexperiment.com


The Gandhi Experiment - Teaching our teenagers how to become global citizens Purchase here

Maragret is the ‘go to’ for Collaborative Debating. For workshops you can contact her on Margaret@margarethepworth.com