AE 398 – Interview: On Celebrating Australia Day & Changing The Date with Ian Smissen

Learn Australian English in this interview episode of the Aussie English Podcast where I interview my father Ian Smissen on celebrating Australia Day & changing the date.

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AE 398 – Interview: On Celebrating Australia Day & Changing The Date with Ian Smissen

G’day, guys! Welcome to this episode of Aussie English. Today, I have yet another interview for you guys. Today’s a special interview, because it’s with my father, it’s with my dad. So, we sat down on Australia Day the other day and we had a bit of a chat about what it was like for him growing up, how he learnt about Australia day in school, how it compares to places like America and the different holidays they have. We kind of talk about patriotism and nationalism in Australia compared to America as well, and how you should celebrate Australia Day if you are from overseas, but you want to take part in that holiday.

So, it’s a good episode today guys. Remember, if you want to study today’s episode you can do so in the Aussie English Classroom and you’ll get a five- maybe a seven-minute excerpt from today’s interview with vocab, a listening comprehension exercise, and we sort of discuss some of the sentences and language that is used in each interview. There’s a whole bunch of other interviews up there at the moment too from the past weeks that you can also study. So, this is a really good way to practice your Aussie English comprehension.

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Anyway, let’s get into today’s interview, guys. Take it away dad.


Alright, Dad welcome to the Aussie English podcast.

Hey! Good to be back.

You’ve been on quite a few times. I don’t think I put any of the episodes up. So, I’ll have to see what the order is in the future with this one.

Oh well, so yeah. Hi everyone. Happy to be here if it’s the first time. Happy to be back.

I think that’s going to be probably out early, ’cause we’re going to be talking about Australia Day. So, yeah well, I’ve got three days to get it up.

You’ve got three days to get it up.

So, well I can just… I guess, we should just start with your experience of Australia Day growing up, how you celebrated it, and maybe a bit about the history of it.

Yeah well look, Australia Day for me was just, when I was a kid, was just another public holiday. You don’t see the significance of it as an Australian national celebration when you were a child. It’s just another public holiday. But it always falls in the school holidays anyway. So, it was really just a day that both Mum and Dad were available, and we… you know, it was… often we’d go away for the day or we’d go to the beach or we do something like that. So, mostly it was a family thing, when I was a child. As I was growing up, once I got to be a teenager or a young adult, a lot of it was around another time just to hang out with your mates. The classic Australian… have the Australian barbecue or go to the beach or… used to be back in those days, there was always a cricket match on. The way the scheduling of cricket is done now it’s a bit different. But so, there’s always something to go and do with your friends.

So, what were your fondest memories of that sort of holiday? Was it always related to the beach?

Yeah mostly the beach, because obviously it’s falling in the middle of our summer, and it’s a public holiday, so both parents were available. So, it was a sort of family thing to go to the beach.

And how would you compare it, I guess, to things like July 4th and our perception of that in Australia? Is Australia overly nationalistic or patriotic?

Yeah, there is a patriotic element to it. I think there’s… we’re not as patriotic as the Americans are with regard to some of the symbols like Independence Day, the flag, and those sort of things, but there’s a strong element of that.

It’s the weirdest thing, I think I notice for Australia Day’s probably the only time you’ll see the Australian flag, unless it’s maybe Anzac Day.

Yeah, I mean there are flags on buildings and those sort of things, and, you know, public buildings always have, you know, the Australian flag or the state flag or both, sometimes the Aboriginal flag here or the Aboriginal Torres Strait Island flag, even though Torres Strait Islander have their own know. They identify with the standard sort of black red and yellow one. So, there’s that element. But you’re right. I think, you know, if you go driving around today two or three days before Australia day there’ll be people who’ll have the Australian flag hanging from the aerial on a car and they’ll have it, you know, maybe in the front of the house and things, but, you know, that doesn’t happen as often.

And the funny thing is they take it down pretty much straightaway after, right?

Yeah, it’d go down. So, it’s there for the, you know, celebration of the day rather than it being a sort of nationalistic patriotic thing full-time.

What do you think with that? Digging in and going away from Australia a slightly. Why do you think Americans are so much more patriotic than Australians when, you know, I would imagine both countries have their reasons to be proud of who they are?

Yeah, yeah, and, look, it’s difficult to judge the distinction between patriotism and the symbolism of patriotism. I think most people around the world are patriotic towards their country, but sometimes those symbols of the things that we concentrate on like the flag, the national anthem, national holidays, those sort of things. I think Americans, and you know, apologies to my American friends and relatives.

Who are learning Australian English.

Who are learning Australian English, who will cringe at what I’m about to say, but certainly as a foreigner, a non-American, my impression of American patriotism is it is about the fact that the Americans, 250 years ago, fought for their national identity. They fought to become a country. Which Australia did not.

So, we have not gone through that.

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Australia did not. Australia was a penal settlement originally and we then Federated to become a country by joining the colonies together in to states in one country, which was in 1901. Yeah. So, it’s only 117 years ago that that happened. But we never fought to become a country. We didn’t fight to get rid of the British to become a country, we just did. So, I think there’s that patriotism in most countries, as I said, about people, you know, like the country they live in and they respect the culture and the history and all those sort of things. But in the case of America, I think it is a bit of a sort of national celebration of the fact that they deliberately created a country by fighting for it.

Yeah. It was always weird for me, because, I guess, growing up I never really understood the whole being that proud, you know, of being from a certain country. In Australia, I don’t know… What did you… how do you feel about the average Australian and their sort of opinion of being Australia? Because we just don’t seem to wear it like the Americans seem to or like other countries seem to.

Yeah, look, yeah, you’re right. I think it comes down… it’s almost… it doesn’t… it doesn’t sort of eventuate or does doesn’t show until it counts. And by “it counts”, it may not be something dramatic like a war or something, but Australians are extremely patriotic when it comes to sport. You know, if we’re playing a sport against another country or we go to the Olympics or the World Championships or the Commonwealth Games or any of those sort of things, Australians become very patriotic about wanting Australians to be successful on their behalf. And so, I think that. Whereas, we just tend not to celebrate… overtly celebrate Australia as a country without any particular reason.

Yeah, it is a bit of a peculiar one with regards to that. Why do you think it’s so associated with the beach? Is it just ’cause it’s…

Well yeah, I mean, if you come from… Come from Central Australia or you come from an inland town that isn’t near the beach, then you’re not going to associate that with the beach. If you grew up in a small country town in outback New South Wales, you’re probably going to associate your leisure activities with rural activities that are not related to the beach. It could be going to a dam on a farm or it could be going to a lake, or… if there’s no water around at all, who knows what it would be. But, most of the Australian population live very close to the coast. All of our large cities are on the coast. The two largest cities, which comprise more than a third of the population of the whole country, are focused right on the beach. Melbourne on the bay and Sydney on its own surf beaches. And so, our leisure activities, particularly over summer, which is obviously along school holidays when you’re growing up, are often you go to the beach. The beach is free. It’s fun. People surf, they swim, they lie around in the sand, they play volleyball or cricket, or just hang out with their friends. So, it’s a sort of fun place to be when you’re a child, and as you keep growing up it keeps being one of those things that attracts you.

And so, did you… Did you have a deep understanding of what Australia Day was based on and meant when you were growing up as a kid? Was it taught at school?

No. As a young child, it was sort… ‘taught’ is probably exaggerating the amount of effort that was put into it. I think it was sort of mentioned. And we studied a lot of Australian history, either informally or formally, at primary school, and then if you were doing Australian history, or in fact history, you did Australian history as part of that at high school. But, Australia Day, as such, was not really celebrated from an historic point of view. There wasn’t an understanding of where it came from and those sort of things. And in fact, it’s a funny one, because the current date that we celebrate Australia Day on is celebrating, for want of a better term, or at least it’s recognising, the date that Arthur Philip in the first fleet arrived in Australia and settled, and it wasn’t Australia at the time, it was called New South Wales, which is now a state. So, it became the colony and that colony ended up becoming the state of the country. So, Australia didn’t exist. It wasn’t like we created Australia on that date. It was just a date that Europeans, white English people, celebrated that day. So, our challenge has always been that that has become the national holiday. But Australia Day, as a holiday, was not always on that date. 100 years ago, it was celebrated in July. It has also been celebrated on other days, apparently, as well. And so, the concept of a national holiday to celebrate us as a nation I think is one that is highly laudable and it’s a useful thing to do. We all like to celebrate, we all like a holiday, and celebrating our history and culture as a nation is a good thing to do. Whether that date is the right date is the current argument politically that’s going on around Australia at the moment?

So, can you summarise that, I guess, from both sides at all? Why is it controversial having Australia Day on the 26th of January?

Well, as I said, you know, we celebrate it as the date of the creation of the colony in New South Wales in what is now the city of Sydney. Indigenous people, many indigenous people, call it ‘Invasion Day’, because that’s the day that Europeans came and landed in the country and stayed. There had been Europeans coming here previously, but yeah, they were exploring or they just landed by accident. They hadn’t come to create a home. And Europeans did in the part of the English did the 26th of January in 1788. And so, we are celebrating that date, and it is rightful, a reasonable celebration, for a proportion of the population, but the people who are… the indigenous people and those who identify either as or with indigenous people, feel that it is not an appropriate day to have a holistic view of the celebration of Australia, because for them, it was the day that their culture got invaded and all of the horrendous things that happened to their culture afterwards are not worthy of celebrating on that day. So, that’s one side of that argument. The other side of the argument is that it’s Australia day and therefore it should be celebrated. The challenge we have at the moment is that, and the thing that irritates me particularly among some of the conservative commentators and politicians, is that they are criticising people who are claiming that Australia Day should not be on that day, but conflating that with an argument saying “it’s on Australian, how can you, you know, argue about Australia Day.

…Want to change it?

And as far as I’ve read and seen, nobody is saying we shouldn’t have Australia Day. They’re simply saying it shouldn’t be on that date. And so, the conflating argument is always around, you know, it’s un-Australian to criticise Australia Day. The people who are criticising it are not criticising Australia Day as a concept, they’re criticising having it on that date. And I think we have to look at that argument from both sides, and people will be sensitive no matter which side they look at.

I guess, it’s difficult, isn’t it, when you’ve grown up and it’s tradition, and, you know, it would be like shifting Christmas for some people. And, that’s where… like, I can at least understand, I guess, that side of the argument where it’s not even about what that day may have represented 170-200 years ago, but it’s more about what it represents for them and their lives and their personal history with that day.

Yeah, look, I agree.

That’s hard to suddenly be… You can’t just sort of change Christmas and then be like, “Yay! It’s the fourth of October! I can’t wait for this!”. It would not have the same gravity I feel.

No. You’re right. But the real challenge with it is that there hasn’t been a longstanding set of that date. It’s longer than most people who’re alive. So, you know, you’ve always celebrated Australia Day as the 26th of January. In my memory, I think I always have as well, but it’s not like that was constituted in stone when Australia was created. In 1901, when we federated Australia, we didn’t decide on a national holiday then. We had a national holiday, and we used it, but it’s become the 26th of January after that.

Well that meant nothing to the other colonies, right?

And in fact, Australia Day now is a constituted holiday. It’s written into our laws. It would have to be changed, if we’re no longer going to call it Australia Day and move to another day. But that was very recent. That’s only in the last 30 years or so, I think. You can look up the date. I’m not sure. But I remember it happening. And so, there is this challenge of, do we move day because a few people, and ‘it’s a few’, is there’re still 100,000s, if not millions who object to it, as opposed to those who object to it moving. I suspect that the large majority of people who sit in the middle are not passionate about either side of the argument and don’t really care. And that’s one of the challenges you have when you have the two extremes on both sides of an argument arguing about it but most people don’t care, then it’s really hard to move and make something happen if most people don’t care, because they end up just getting sick of both sides of the argument, because they see them both as extreme.

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So, what advice would you have for listeners or viewers at the moment, if they’re about to celebrate their first Australia Day, how did they do it?

Yeah, I think the best thing about Australia Day is find what do you think of when you think of Australian culture. If you want to be the Aussie okker bloke and sheila, to use some slang, which is probably getting a little bit out of date by now, but, then there are traditional things around the beach and sport and barbecues and hanging out with your friends and doing those sorts of things. But we do that at Christmas. Americans do it at Thanksgiving and Christmas. And there’s all sorts of national holidays around the world and other holidays where people do those sorts of things. So, I think for Australia Day, it is really about doing what you think of when you think of Australia, and I know certainly here, we probably won’t go to a sporting event, but we might go to the beach.

That’s it. That’s about it.

And we’re probably have… either have friends around here for lunch or dinner time or we’ll go to their place or something.

Have a barbie.

We’ll have a barbie, exactly, depending on the weather. But Australian summers, or certainly southern Australian summers being fickle, it looks like it will be quite warm and whatever on Friday, but it may well be, you know, 18 degrees and pouring with rain, which is not exactly barbecue weather, but that’s not going to stop us getting together and having fun.

Oh, awesome. Well, dad, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast.

Thanks Pete any time.

No worries. Happy Australia.

Happy Australia Day. Enjoy it, whatever you’re doing.

See ya. guys.



Alright guys, I hope you enjoy that interview. A special thanks to my father for coming on the podcast. I’ve done quite a few episodes with him recently, although, I haven’t yet uploaded any of them. So, there’s quite a few things that I have chatted to him about, and I am sure that you guys are going to hear from him in the future. He’s one of those guys who seems to have an opinion on everything, but also know a great deal about pretty much everything. So, stay tuned and you’ll probably hear from dad in the future.

Anyway guys, don’t forget to check out the Aussie English Classroom if you want to finish today’s episode as a mini course and learn Australian English a little more in-depth. And remember that you have until Sunday the 4th of February to sign up and save $17 a month. That’s it for me today, and I hope you have an amazing week.

See ya!

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