Alternative Dates for Oz Day

The timing of Australia Day – January 26, the anniversary of when Governor Arthur Phillip arrived in Sydney Cove and the British Empire expanded its reach across the continent – is controversial. “Expanded its reach” is a polite way to say “conquered the hell out of the place” – and that’s exactly what the day marks. It was the day the continents indigenous inhabitants encountered an Outside Context Problem;

The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you’d tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbours were cooperative or enslaved but at any rate peaceful and you were busy raising temples to yourself with all the excess productive capacity you had, you were in a position of near-absolute power and control which your hallowed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass… when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you’ve just been discovered, you’re all subjects of the Emperor now, he’s keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests.

To be honest, what the British did here was no worse than what had been done across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, for thousands of years; if you don’t believe me, go look up the Mongol Conquest of Baghdad.

That’s not to say it was OK; though I loathe historical presentism, by the standards of today what was done was reprehensible, and people are still hurting from it. But even by the standards of the time, the British weren’t very nice – and they knew it;

Aborigines were initially treated with compassion, but soon after Governor Phillip’s departure the massacres began. First at Risdon Cove in Van Diemen’s Land, where in 1804 a large party of Aborigines hunting game was murdered by grapeshot fired on the orders of Dr Jacob Montgarret, Launceston’s magistrate. He recovered many of the bodies, melted them down and crammed the bones into casks which he sent, for anthropological amusement, to his colleagues in Sydney. Other massacres followed, and in Tasmania – let’s make no melted-down bones about it – the British committed genocide. Although the term would not be coined for another century, the British knew exactly what they had done: they had, admitted a parliamentary committee in 1839, left ‘an indelible stain’.

— Robertson, Geoffrey (2011-07-01). The Statute of Liberty (Kindle Locations 844-850). Random House Australia. Kindle Edition.

My personal view is that January 26 isn’t an anniversary to be celebrated as the national day of the country – it can be a day to consider the journey of the nation since that fateful day in 1788, both the good and the bad, but I can think of better dates for our national day. Dates that don’t rub it in the faces of the indigenous inhabitants of the country, and actually mark something significant – milestones on our march to independence as a nation.

First, 9 October, the date of the passage of the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act – the Statute being an act of the British Parliament that made us, and the other dominions, de jure independent nations. The British Parliament passed it on 11 December 1931, but seeing as it took us 11 years to pass the enabling legislation here, 11 December would be a poor choice.

Second, 4 December, the date of the Australian passage of the Australia Act, which severed the last constitutional links with the United Kingdom.

Third, 3 March, the date that Act came into effect.

All three are good candidates for our de facto independence as a nation, and all three come without a very bitter pill for our indigenous peoples to swallow.

I’ve listed them in order of my personal preference. My reason for ranking 9 October as first is that it marks the day the Australian Government finally gathered the intestinal fortitude to do what the British had been wanting us to do for over a decade, and become legislatively independent. I rank 4 December second as it is the day we crossed the Rubicon in severing ourselves from the UK. 3 march comes a distant third, only because you’ll have to fight the gays for that day every time it coincides with the first Saturday in March.

Picking any one of those days will be fine, frankly. And it beats waiting for the Republic.

Addendum, 24 January 2018: Eddie McGuire has suggested on Triple M that May 27, the anniversary of the 1967 Referendum , would do nicely, being the day when “white Australia and black Australia finally became ‘Australia'” ( – although the effect of the referendum isn’t as great as is often claimed, the symbolism is significant, and I see nothing wrong with that at all.


By your numbers combined…

There was a good article posted this morning on Humans In Design about the validity of the religious affiliation question in the Australian Census. They raise some very valid concerns about how the way the census asks the question regarding religion, pointing out that it’s highly likely that the census underestimates the numbers of irreligious people.

I had the following exchange on twitter with Tristan Cooke of Humans In Design;

This prompted me, when I got home this evening, to go back to my figures from yesterday’s post, and plot out the “not stated/inadequately described” trendline.

(click to enlarge)

Well, there you go Tristan – a slow but steady rise from just under 10% to around about 11% in ten years, based on the 1961-2011 fifty-year linear trend.

I decided then to embark on a bit of a thought exercise. Assume, for the sake of this, that the people falling under “not stated” would be captured by the “no religion” figure; have a look at what happens if we combine “not stated/inadequately described” with “no religion”…

(click to enlarge)

If the contention being made over at Humans in Design is correct, that people are skipping the question because they have no religion and the structure of the question is adversely impacting upon their answering this properly, then the irreligious became the largest affiliation in Australia at the dawn of the millennium (and no, writing in a real minor religion such as the Baha’i faith doesn’t put you into that category; you fall into the category of “Other religions”).

Here’s the ten-year projection, based off the 50-year linear trendline;

(click to enlarge)

…and based on the 20-year linear trendline:

(click to enlarge)

For the sake of the exercise, I projected both linear trendlines out to 2101 – should the 50-year trend hold, then there will be more Australians without a religion than with one in under forty years. The 20-year trendline flattens this rise out a little – to forty-five years. Either way, by 2060, a full forty years sooner than yesterday’s projections anticipated, the irreligious will outnumber the religious.

As with my post yesterday, all figures have been sourced directly from the ABS and the censuses they have conducted (see here, here, here, and here).

Rise of the Godless

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the 2011 Census Data today – the full enchilada is available here, free of charge to anyone who wants to get into it. All figures in this post have been sourced from the ABS and the censuses they have conducted (here, here, here, and here).

But there’s a specific demographic change that caught my eye – in the area of religious affiliation.

Here are the top five religious affiliations in Australia according to the 2011 Census. See if you can guess what caught my eye.

The top five religious affiliations in Australia

This looked intriguing. I dove into the Bureau’s databases, and plotted out the changes in religious affiliation from 1961 to 2011 – the last half-century for which we’ve had regular censuses conducted. What I found was very interesting indeed.

Australian Census - Religion Numbers 1961-2011
(click to enlarge)

Over the course of the last half-century, although Catholicism has (more or less) held steady, there has been a general decline in affiliation with Christianity. Other religions are on a steady rise, but no one predominates; Buddhism, at roughly 529,000 adherents, is the single largest non-Christian affiliation, followed by Islam (in its many flavours) at 476,300 adherents, and Hinduism at 275,500 adherents (refer ABS 2012 for the source of those figures, about three-quarters of the way down).

But what I found most intriguing was the second-largest affiliation; note the inexorable march upwards of the number of people professing to have no religion. They are, as of now, second only to the Catholics in number; the gap between “no religion” and the Catholics is smaller than the gap between “no religion” and the third largest affiliation.

Curious as to where this thread was going, I plotted out the trends for the top four affiliations (Catholic, Anglican, Other Christian, and No Religion) out to 2021.

Australian Census - Religion Numbers 1961-2011 - 10 year Projection
(click to enlarge)

Interesting, isn’t it? If the linear trends established over the last half-century hold steady, then in less than fifteen years “no religion” will be the single largest affiliation in the nation – overtaking Catholicism sometime in the early 2020’s.

But data from the 20-year period from 1991 to 2011 tells a slightly different story. In that time Catholicism has declined from 27.3% of the total population to 25.3% of the total population. Using those 20-year linear trends, we find that “no religion” will be the single largest affiliation in Australia sometime around 2018.

Australian Census - Religion Numbers 1991-2011 - 10 year Projection
(click to enlarge)

I went back to the 50-year linear trends and projected them further – out to 2101 (I’ll confess I was just messing around with the graph by that stage). I found that, should the 50-year trend from 1961-2011 hold steady, then within this century, there will be more Australians without no religion than with one. The irreligious will outnumber all the religious combined.

This century, the godless will be first the plurality, and then the majority.