PROUD: First Fleet descendent John Haxton.
PROUD: First Fleet descendent John Haxton.

If not January 26, then when?

AS DEBATE continues over the future of Australia Day, the question for First Fleeters Central Coast branch president John Haxton is, if not January 26, then when?

"If we change it to another day, then what is the significance of that day?" he asked.

John is proud to trace his ancestry back five generations to two First Fleeters, a seaman and a convict.

He believes we can't and shouldn't rewrite history, and that means Australia Day should continue to be celebrated on January 26, when the First Fleet of 11 convict ships arrived at Sydney Cove in 1788 and Captain Arthur Phillip raised the flag to signal the beginning of the colony.

It has been officially celebrated as a public holiday on that day since the 30th anniversary in 1818.

John is under no illusions that the Aboriginal people have suffered as a result of white settlement over the years, but he said the benefits of settlement and the prosperity it has brought to Australia should also not be ignored.

"We object to the term invasion," John said.

"The First Fleet didn't come in with guns blazing; in fact Governor Phillip was under instructions to be kind to the inhabitants, to be amenable."

The real failing, he said, was in communication and beliefs of the time which failed to understand a different culture and saw the Aboriginal people as being uneducated.

This was as indicative of the time as the fact people were shipped off from their homeland, their families and everything they knew, for as little as stealing a penny or a loaf of bread.

However, he said, as Australians, we all needed to unite to look to the future.

The focus, he said, should be on what we can do to help the Aboriginal people in real terms rather than artificially trying to change a historical date and dividing the nation.

"I would much rather see us do as much as we can to help the Aboriginal people in terms of their health, education and housing," he said.

"But they have to be involved, provide guidance to government agencies and take control of those services and programs themselves."

John said while he was proud of his First Fleet links, he was equally proud of the ancestry he had traced to his father's side of the family, coming to Australia from England in the 1930s.

"Everything had to start somewhere," John said.

In the case of white settlement in Australia that was January 26, for better or worse, and if it hadn't occurred, how many among us would be here?

The First Fleeters Australian Fellowship celebrates its 50th anniversary at the Maritime Museum in Sydney on March 10.

If you have links to the First Fleet or are interested in finding out more about the Central Coast branch, it meets at Point Claire Hall on the second Saturday of the month. Call John on 4392 1926.


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