Zoe Askew

JANUARY 26 has different meanings to our diverse nation, but one thing is shared: reflection.

Reflection on a turbulent history and the injustices faced by Aboriginal people, reflection on our achievements as a country and those of the amazing people in it, reflection on ways in which Australia has changed for the better and reflection on ways in which still need changing.

The federal Member for Gippsland, Darren Chester, was among local leaders at the Sale Lions Club’s Australia Day event, which welcomed 39 new Australian citizens in the 2023 Australia Day Citizenship Ceremony, joining more than 19,000 people who became Australian citizens on Thursday.

The federal Member for Gippsland, Darren Chester, at the 2023 Wellington Shire Council Australian Citizenship Ceremony. Photos: Zoe Askew

“Australia Day is the perfect opportunity to pause and reflect on what has made our nation successful, and reinvigorate some pride in our achievements, plus build the determination we need to overcome any challenges in the future,” Mr Chester said in his Australia Day message.

“The theme of ‘Reflect. Respect. Celebrate.’ is an invitation to us all to stop talking our country down and count our blessings.

“That doesn’t mean we ignore our modern-day problems or disregard parts of our heritage that are distressing or make us uncomfortable. But it does mean we look forward with a spirit of optimism, resilience and positivity.”

Sale’s Tiet, Hong, and Thao at the Wellington Shire Council’s 2023 Australia Day Citizenship Ceremony, where they became some of Australia’s newest citizens.

The Nationals Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien, and Wellington Shire Council Mayor, Ian Bye, opened the Australia Day Citizenship Ceremony sharing similar sentiments about January 26 before taking their roles in welcoming almost 40 new Australians into this diverse and great country.

Acting chief executive of Wellington Shire Council, Clem Gillings, stood on the stage erected on the Port of Sale lawns and called forth Salla Aario, the first to pledge allegiance to Australia and receive citizenship, officiated by Cr Bye.

Salla Aario, the first to pledge allegiance to Australia and receive a citizenship certificate.

The Abon family, a family of three, followed, approaching the stage, immaculately dressed with father of two, Chamberlin Abon, unable to hide his excitement, a grin pinned ear to ear.

“Excited, proud, happy, all the positive things,” Mr Abon said after becoming an Australian citizen.

The Abon family were the second in line to become Australian citizens on Thursday. Wellington Shire Council Mayor Ian Bye and Nationals Member for Gippsland South Danny O’Brien stand with the very proud Clarisse, Clarence and Chamberlin Abon.

Jan and Nadine Booysen were among the last to be called to the stage with their eldest son, also named Jan.

On January 26, 2018, Mr and Ms Booysen arrived in Australia with their young son; five years later, to the day, on Australia Day 2023, the Booysen family became Australian citizens.

Jan and Nadine Booysen enjoy morning tea with their two sons before becoming Australian citizens, exactly five years to the day after their arrival to Australia.

Despite a last-minute venue change, a result of bats roosting in the Sale Botanic Gardens, the Sale Lions Club’s Australia Day event was a huge success, attracting hundreds of guests to join in respectful celebration and reflection of our multicultural heritage, where our differences are what bring us together.

Briagolong Bush Band and Sale City Band provided music as attendees enjoyed the delicious free barbeque catered by Sale and District Scouts and event organisers Sale Lions Club.

Briagolong Bush Band at the Port of Sale playing to the crowd at the Lions Club of Sale Australia Day event.

Amongst the crowd were 97-year-old Beryl Morris and her daughter Christine, patriotically dressed, both bearing their respective national awards.

In 1993, 30 years ago, Beryl Morris was awarded citizen of the year in Bairnsdale. Last year, on Australia Day 2022, Christine was awarded the Medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia (General Division) for her services to the community.

Ninety-seven-year-old Beryl Morris with her daughter Christine at the Port of Sale on Thursday, January 26.

Children lined the concrete pathway dividing the lawn between the Wellington Centre and The Wedge Performing Arts Centre, patiently waiting their turn to have their faces painted.

Youths dressed in Sale and District Scouts uniforms diligently assisted their elders with miscellaneous tasks before being summoned to hoist the Australian flag ahead to the Wellington Shire Council’s 2023 Australia Day Citizenship Ceremony.

Sale and District Scouts prepare to march and hoist the flag at the Sale Lions Club Australia Day event.

Thursday’s event at the Port of Sale may have given the impression of a picture-perfect day, as hundreds shared in the celebration of almost 40 new Australian citizens from 15 different countries, but this was not the case in many parts of the country.

In Melbourne, several thousand people marched from Parliament House to Federation Square as part of the annual invasion day rally, the largest march to date, according to organisers.

January 26 commemorates the landing of the British first fleet of convicts at Sydney Cove in 1788 and the raising of the Union Jack flag in Sydney Cove by Captain Arthur Phillip, the beginning of the settlement that ingrained European colonisation of the Australian continent.

In 1935, Australia’s states and territories officially nominated the name Australia Day to mark the celebration of the country, its people and its achievements; however, it wasn’t until 1994 that January 26 became a public holiday across the nation.

There is growing support across the country for Australia Day’s date to be changed, with arguments that Australia’s national day should not be one that commemorates colonisation but rather a date inclusive to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

For years protests for the public holiday’s date to be changed have been hosted; however, 2023 invasion day rallies across the country took a very different tone to previous years, with participants divided on voice.

Whilst thousands marched across the country, many marched under slogans calling for sovereignty to take priority over a voice to parliament.

Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung nation and co-chair of the First People’s Assembly of Victoria, Marcus Stewart, says a treaty can strengthen the relationship between First Nations people and all Victorians and will create opportunities for truth-telling and healing.

Mr Stewart, who continually attends the invasion day rally, boycotted Thursday’s demonstration, feeling that No campaigners had hijacked the protest.

“It’s hard to watch a handful of outliers hijack the rally and attempt to destroy the most significant opportunity we’ve had to create meaningful structural change at a federal level by fuelling the No campaign against a voice to parliament,” Mr Stewart said.

“They’re out of step with the views held by the vast majority of our mob. If they get their way, we’ll squander this once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

Despite a division between this year’s protestors, one thing remains agreed on: January 26 should not be Australia Day.