Australian Traditions

Words by Claire Ciantar | @claire_ciantar
Photo by Adam Hogan 

Keeping traditions versus breaking them is something that can be very controversial and personal. In relation to some of today’s debate around Australian traditions, it’s important to note that the decision to either keep or break these traditions will inevitably have a profound impact on the current society in which we live.

The argument for marriage equality is one that challenges traditional views and laws currently in place. In recent years, debate surrounding Australia Day celebrations on the 26th of January has come to the forefront of the Australian psyche. Furthermore, the long-lasting debate continues surrounding Australia’s political system – should we become a Republic? Or, should we remain a Constitutional Monarchy? I spoke to some RMIT students for their takes on these issues.

Australia has already broken many of their previous marital traditions. Originally, there was no such thing as rape in marriage or divorce, and a woman couldn’t give evidence against her husband in a court. The debate surrounding same-sex marriage has become increasingly publicised in Australia over the last decade, beginning largely in 2000 when the Netherlands became the first country to legally instate marriage equality. It increased in attention again, after the US legalised same-sex marriage in 2015. The current Marriage Act states ‘marriage’ excludes all types of marriage other than that between one man and one woman.

RMIT student Ben thinks that “the fact that this debate needs to be had at all is ridiculous… it’s a strong yes from me!” Fellow student Elizabeth believes “the definition of ‘marriage’ should legally remain between a man and woman, because that is how God designed it and God’s design is always best.” Conversely, Jas says “it should definitely be legalised.” Same-sex marriage is a controversial issue that will continue to be debated until a final decision is made by the Federal Parliament, pending the results of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ survey. On that note – make sure you vote!

One date that has recently sparked some debate is January 26th. Over many years, Indigenous Australians have protested against the day, arguing that the date should be changed. To many, Australia Day is seen as nothing more than “Invasion Day”. In August 2017, Yarra City councillors voted unanimously to no longer refer to January 26 as Australia Day, causing a huge divide in the community. with some arguing against the decision and others supporting it, saying it will be better for reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Jas informed me that she doesn’t celebrate Australia Day anymore, “since about three years ago when I realised the significance of the date. At most, now I just listen to triple j’s Hottest 100.” Fellow student Timothy says he is all for changing the date, but “disapproves of individual councils doing it unless they also refuse to take the public holiday off work. All or nothing.”

Another tradition that has caused some controversy over the years has been the debate regarding whether Australia should change its political system to a Republic. At the moment, Australia has a Governor General who represents the Queen – our Head of State. If we were to change to a Republic, a President would fill this role. There are many pros and cons for each style of governing. In 1999, a referendum was held which resulted in 45.13% of voters expressing a ‘yes’ vote for changing to a Republic, and 54.87% voting ‘no’.

Tim is all for the Republic, but only to be implemented after the passing of the current Queen; “She deserves to see it through!” Elizabeth says “I don’t see the need to change.” For Ben, “a Constitutional Monarchy is largely meaningless, but I couldn’t really care about being a republic.” Finally, Alex claims “I think the power that the Governor General has is a little bit too much, although obviously it isn’t exercised very often. I think it would also be a good opportunity for Australia to introduce a bill of rights in a new constitution, as well as being a fantastic opportunity to provide more recognition and power to Aboriginal people constitutionally.”

The struggle between breaking and keeping Australian traditions has gathered a range of opinions, and will continue to do so for years to come.

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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