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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 ©.  

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


Students workshop the topic prior to the Collaborative Debate

Students workshop the topic prior to the Collaborative Debate

Last Friday, I was very excited to be back at Preshil, running a Collaborative Debate with all their Yr 10s. Having studied ethical questions around the Fourth Industrial Revolution - digital revolution - social credit, advanced surveillance technology, facial recognition and more, the topic of our Collaborative Debate was ‘That we need more surveillance strategies.’ Oh yes, it was challenging!

I was impressed at how quickly these Yr 10s learnt to shift to this new framework of collaborative conversation, not trying to point score or denigrate, but to open the topic up to further examination. 

In Collaborative Debating we learn that we may need to pose new questions - create a question chain that will then take us closer to the answers we are seeking. One such question raised by one of the Preshil Yr 10s in relation to new surveillance strategies was ‘What are the outcomes we would be seeking?’ It helped to clarify the purpose and intent of our debate. 

And as much as we were talking about 'screens' here we were fully engaged in face-to-face conversations, in deep learning. Love it!



On Wednesday I ran yet another Collaborative Debating workshop, this time for the Yr 9s at Donvale Christian College. It is amazing to see how quickly young people can re-frame a debate from being adversarial to respectful once they are taught how to do this. 

But don't take it from me - here it is from the students themselves: 

  • "The idea of Collaborative Debating is much better since it isn't about fighting the opposition but more about coming to an agreement." 
  • "I learnt that Collaborative Debating is about working together to resolve conflict, yet you can still disagree." 
  • "I liked how Collaborative Debating was less competitive and more about communication."
  • "I think Collaborative Debating helps the opposing sides to understand each other's statements without going straight to rebuttal. It was really informative."
  • "We gained a powerful insight on how we can change for the better."

Marg Hepworth is the "Go-To" for Collaborative Debating: Inquire at

My Mindful Coordinator (MC) and timekeeper, doing a sterling job of maintaining respect throughout our debate.

My Mindful Coordinator (MC) and timekeeper, doing a sterling job of maintaining respect throughout our debate.

#collaborativedebating #thegandhiexperiment #margarethepworth #peaceeducation #insightfulyr9s #debating


Photo permission granted

Photo permission granted

When I wrote 'The Gandhi Experiment - Teaching our teenagers how to become global citizens', the readers I had in mind were parents and teachers. I never expected to be contacted by two 12 year olds telling me, 'We are reading your book' and 'we are up to “The Best Forgiveness Role-Play Ever”, we really, really loved the thinking shown by the Babemba Tribe that you talked about in your book and we would like to show our class an example of this.' 

Kids teaching kids - it doesn't get better than this!

'The Gandhi Experiment' was given to Loren, and read with her, by her mum, who intentionally seeks ways to teach peace-building strategies in their home. Mum wrote to me too, 'She is very inspired by the work you have been doing, as am I. Both my daughters feel really empowered that they can now make a difference in the world.'

Loren's teacher then fully supported her and her friend in using 'The Gandhi Experiment - Teaching our teenagers how to become global citizens' as part of their research on their project on Conflict Resolution. These two young people contacted me over Skype and asked a series of questions about conflict negotiation. I was so impressed with the maturity of their questioning and their thinking. And more-so that they were pursuing conflict resolution as something they felt they and their peers needed to learn more about to enhance their own lives. 

Amazing teamwork - parent/teacher/student all working together - to achieve valuable life-skills. 

Blessings to you all. This article comes with Loren's mum's blessings too. She is a proactive parent who believes that teaching her children life-skills, such as conflict negotiation, will auger well for their futures. 

#TheGandhiExperiment #PeerLearning #PeaceEducation #ValuesEducation 

Available worldwide at any good bookstore

Available worldwide at any good bookstore

"THAT TECHNOLOGY IS KILLING PEACE." Yr 6s learn Collaborative Debating

An attentive audience

An attentive audience

It seemed an appropriate topic for a debate on the International Day of Peace: "That technology is killing peace." Yet perhaps even more appropriately for that auspicious day, the Year 6s of Auburn South Primary school were learning a new methodology in debating that takes the adversarial nature out of a traditional debate - Collaborative Debating.


Speaking on the seriousness of hacking, the Affirmative team discovered they had made a point on which the entire audience stood to agree. After the second speaker for the Affirmative team presented very effective arguments on the deeply destructive effects of cyber-bullying, the Mentor (formerly the adjudicator) posed this question, ‘On this point alone, raised by ‘Kyle’, stand if you agree that cyber-bullying can cause depression and enormous emotional, perhaps even physical, harm.’ The entire audience stood. The entire Co-operative Team also stood. The point had been resoundingly made.


This is the point of difference of a Collaborative Debate - debaters are allowed to agree with the opposing team. You are even allowed to show that you disagree on certain points with your own team. Because, you see, you are not aiming to ‘win at all costs’. The aim is to collaboratively solve the problem at hand - even when you come from differing viewpoints. To make the debate constructively useful to your classroom, your school and your community, well beyond the event itself.


The Co-operative Team spoke of Instagram - ‘Half of these Instagram users want to promote peace.’ ‘Skype and social media allow people to contact and maintain relationships.’ And from the authorative mouth of a 12 year old, ‘It is your choice to use social media correctly.’ A message an enormous number of adults would do well to listen to. Then this: ‘We are using certain apps to feel safe. They help us fight against crimes we can’t fight against ourselves.’


Half- way through the debate, the Mentor paused to ask this question: Is anyone feeling conflicted within themselves right now? A few ‘yeses’ in the room and a chance to explain why. The Mentor proceeded: Has anyone been so persuaded by someone’s argument that they would like to cross the floor right now? Two people from the Affirmative team stood to move to the Co-operative team, a visual impression of the change in their stance on this subject.


What happens if the contention can’t be solved in one debate? At the end of the debate the Mentor will ask a series of questions – Has the debate actually thrown up other questions that require further exploration? What are these? Has the debate partially resolved something, but not completely? Are we getting more deeply into the crux of the issue? Then why would we stop there? Let's keep delving. Let's find some solutions.


Most importantly, throughout a Collaborative Debate, a minute of mindful, stilled silence allows for new wisdoms and insights to come in to play.  


For the Auburn South Primary School Year 6 Collaborative Debate, perhaps the most persuasive moment came when the third speaker for the Co-operative team summarised his teams’ messages by stating: ‘It is not technology that is the problem – it’s the people using it.’ Leaving every person in the room to reflect for themselves, 'What is my role in that?'


Congratulations Auburn South Primary Year 6s - your are impressive debaters, persuasive and able to pick up this new shift in thinking and debating in no time! Celebrating the power and effectiveness of collaboration.


Margaret Hepworth is the author of Collaborative Debating – a Teachers Manual and The Gandhi Experiment – Teaching our teenagers how to become global citizens. Available through Readings Bookshops; Link Educational Supplies; James Bennett.

Margaret is available as a motivational speaker and can train both students and staff in Collaborative Debating.


Collaborative Debating: Educational tools for social change

I’m Margaret Hepworth and I am a peace educator. If that concept was as well understood as ‘Hi, I’m an English teacher’…then the type of changes that are needed in this world…? We’d already be seeing them. We need to embed peace education in our school curriculum.