Oh what a day!

Remember when Australia Day used to be a bit of a yawn, particularly for women who got so few gongs? 

This year will surely go down as the most controversial, dare we say, divisive Australia Day.

It was renamed Invasion Day by the growing number of Australians, frustrated by Scott Morrison and prime ministers before him stubbornly refusing to reconcile, to tell the truth, to acknowledge the long history of Aboriginal people in this land and what our British forebears did to destroy them and their culture. 

It is this refusal to listen, to entertain a treaty, settle on a meaningful voice to the Parliament, the failure to close the gap, to stop the destruction of sacred sites tens of thousands of years old that makes us angry.

Australia Day is tainted. The Governor-General says it needs an overhaul. Kerry O’Brien refused his award and says there’s something fundamentally wrong about the highest award – an AC – given to the woman who played good tennis years ago but now says absurd and hurtful things and has caused immense pain to untold people and destroyed lives.

Numerous recipients said shifting the date made sense, including the Australian of the Year, Grace Tame who made the point that this important gesture would cost us nothing as a nation. Malcolm Turnbull agreed, musing this would be most helpful in his all-but-forgotten push for a republic.

We can celebrate the fact that all four main awardees were women – only for the second time in history – and very good ones at that. There is some truth in the notion that when everything is going pear-shaped you bring in the women.

But these four women mean business. Watch this space as they prosecute the uncomfortable issues dear to women. Sexual assault survivor, Grace Tame wants to stop child abuse and has the abusers in her sights.  

The glorious Senior Australian of the Year, Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann says 

We learnt to speak your English fluently, walked on a one-way street to learn the white people’s way, now is the time for you to come closer to understand us and to understand how we live and to listen to what needs are in our communities.

Just 18, the Young Australian of the Year, Isobel Marshall is not afraid to talk to the nation about a taboo subject. She setup a social enterprise to end the stigma around menstruation and improve access to female hygiene products saying periods should not be a barrier to education.

And finally, true Local Hero, Kenyan-born Rosemary Kariuki who fled abuse and violence, is bringing isolated African women together. She urges us to welcome strangers – a novel idea for a country that locks up asylum seekers in isolated places and small hotel rooms for years on end.

But women still have a lot of making up to do. Here are the stats for the last decade, 2011 to 2020:

Australian of the Year7 men3 women
Senior Australian of the Year7 men3 women
Young Australian of the Year5 men6 women
Local Heroes6 men5 women
Total25 men17 women

Today just 36.7 per cent of overall Australia Day award recipients were women and that’s a drop from 41.6 per cent last year. Perhaps we should have the same number of awards in each category available for men and for women. Problem solved?

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