The Australia Day 2021 campaign tries to position the day as something it's never been for any Australian

Australia Day 2021 campaign: self-reflection with a beat hits a dud note

The Australia Day 2021 campaign is out. In an audacious pivot, it attempts to embrace the date controversy which increasingly consumes our supposed national day.

The story of Australia is in parts “painful” and “raw” and “tears us apart”, it tells us – all to a sunny beat you can dance to.

This is actually mostly a re-hash of a 2020 video. But this year the organizers are doubling down on their spin about how Australia Day relates to indigenous Australia. National Australia Day Council CEO Karlie Brand told ABC Radio’s Virginia Trioli this morning that the main purpose of Australia Day is to reflect on the experience of indigenous Australians.

So… reflect on their experience, but don’t listen when they tell you that celebrating our national day on the 26th is hurtful because it commemorates their dispossession?

The tone deafness of the Australia Day 2021 campaign is matched by the Prime Minister’s argument that 26th January 1787 “wasn’t a particularly flash day” for the people in the First Fleet either. Translation: “You think you’ve got it hard? Listen to my problems.”

A day for no one

But the biggest marketing problem with this campaign is that it positions Australia Day as something it has never, ever been for any Australian.

For opponents of the 26th, whose hurt has been exacerbated by years of government dismissal, the day has never been about reflection. It’s about pain. And for those for whom the 26th doesn’t evoke injustice, Australia Day is a day of pride. A day to shout loud and celebrate the greatness of Australia.

Will those Australians suddenly abandon that instinct now? Is the 26th going to be a solemn day of contemplation, like Remembrance Day? A party-free zone? Of course it’s not. And the Australia Day Council don’t genuinely intend for it to be either – hence that upbeat music.

At some point in the next week, there will be official exhortations for us to celebrate. And at that moment this campaign falls apart in mid-air like a plane assembled by a work-experience riveter.

The organizers have tied themselves in a self-reflexive knot, creating a position that’s likely to make everyone unhappy. And they know it too. The campaign is “an attempt to reframe the day to make it about indigenous people”, Karlie Brand told Trioli this morning. When you resort to telling the public your strategy, you’re dead in the water.

As an attempt to inspire Australians to embrace their national day, the Australia Day 2021 campaign is a disaster. But as an act of self-sabotage, it’s quite an achievement. This campaign might be the strongest blow yet in the battle to move Australia Day to a new date.

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