Australia Day keeps us stuck in the past

Posted on 22 Jan 2024

By Denis Moriarty


It's time to end the weaponisation of Australia Day, says group managing director of Our Community, Denis Moriarty.

So, Australia Day rolls round again, just to remind us that traditions get to be time-honoured because they’re useful weapons in the hands of the powerful.

The ones that aren’t commercial inventions, at least, are all about distinguishing between in-groups and out-groups.

While there are doubtless more important battles to fight, can we as a temporary fix just change the name?

Invasion Day is apparently a bridge too far, but how about Britain Day? It’s not as if any Australian was involved in the First Fleet at any point. There wouldn’t be any Australians for at least 160 years.

Australian citizenship didn’t come into being until 1949, and we remained British subjects till 1984, which gave those Pommy bastards plenty of time to load us down with a dumpster full of their dubious assumptions, cultural tokens, and spoken and unspoken prejudices.

While we have a British monarch, for example, we’ll always be reminded that it was in the name of King George that the landing party at Botany Bay told the continent that it now set the law and owned all the land from that beach to the Abrolhos islands 4,000 kilometres away (say what you like about the British, they knew all there was to know about voice projection).

While they were at it, the British signed us up to the private boarding-school system (colonial imitations of Eton and rugby), private men’s clubs (colonial imitations of White’s and Boodle’s), and the worship of Shakespeare.

Melbourne’s Australian Club took a vote a few years ago on whether it was going to admit women and came up with the proper British answer: stuff them. Right here, right now, some way along into the 21st century, at a time when we’re making progress towards quantum computing, Grace Tame and Julia Gillard need not apply.

I’m not suggesting for an instant that either of these eminences would for a microsecond get any pleasure from being members of the Australian Club, whatever its rules. But there is a reason why membership appealed to, among others, John Howard, George Pell, Malcolm Turnbull, Michael Kroger and James Packer. It’s a centre of power, and a demonstration of power.

"Melbourne’s Australian Club took a vote a few years ago on whether it was going to admit women and came up with the proper British answer: stuff them."

When you ask, after all, who are the members of men-only clubs, the important unifying characteristic isn’t ‘private school old boys looking for boarding school (“traditional”) food’, or ‘lawyers on lunch break’, or ‘people with a Downton Abbey fixation’.

The common denominator is that these are the kind of people who had the overwhelming clout needed to be able to write exemptions for their disgusting habits into anti-discrimination legislation across Australia.

There it is in black and white. The Victorian Equal Opportunity Act, for example, section 68: “A club, or a member of the committee of management or other governing body of a club, may exclude from membership a person on the basis of that person's sex if membership of the club is available only to persons of the opposite sex.”

Our Community managing director Denis Moriarty.

When we started making discrimination illegal the bill drafters may have thought that these discredited relics of male chauvinism were on the way out, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. Rob Hulls, as Victorian Attorney-General, tried to remove this exemption in 2010, but got knocked back in Committee. It’s time we tried again.

In the meantime, any Australian Club, Atheneum Club, Adelaide Club etc member who doesn’t want to be a byword should resign immediately, and remaining a member should be grounds for expulsion from your party, your directorships, and your family.

On a slightly larger scale, too, did we learn nothing from 1788?

When a British battleship comes calling, any other nation should hide its valuables under a large rock and forbid the monarch’s launches to land.

The security pact between Australia, the UK and the US (AUKUS) is the ultimate in hanging on to the outdated and moth-eaten traditions so familiar to us all from BBC period dramas.

A hundred and forty-six years of pig stupidity on the part of the Australian Club is not a compelling argument for a 147th, and the same principle applies to AUKUS.

Britain chose Brexit because it thought traditions could overwrite actuality. Don’t let it drag us into its psychosis.

Denis Moriarty is group managing director of, a social enterprise that helps the country's 600,000 not-for-profits.

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