Aboriginal activist, lawyer and academic Professor Mick Dodson (above) has been named Australian of the Year 2009. The appointment has been widely acclaimed.
Professor Dodson is of the Yawuru people of the isolated Southern Kimberley region of northern Western Australia. He has previously held the position of Social Justice and Equal Opportunity Commissioner, and is on the staff of the Australian National University in Canberra.
Mick Dodson is a no-nonsense Australian who has already asked us to have a conversation about the possibility of changing the date on which we celebrate Australia Day, now January 26. He said on television last night that he didn't feel strongly about the matter himself but understood that many of his people did.
January 26 commemorates the landing in Sydney of the first British Fleet which carried chained convicts who were thrown out of Great Britain in 1788. From this grand (!) beginning sprang our nation.
But so did incessant wars which reduced the number of the original black inhabitants from about a million to 300,000. The wars were of the guns against spears variety, with gifts of poisoned flour and sugar aiding the white cause. Many Aborigines died of newly introduced diseases.
The early British/Australians also took half cast children from their mothers, placing them in institutions with the hope that the culture would die out. Today these youngsters are known as the 'stolen generation'.
It is thought that the Australian Aborigines came here as immigrants from Asia, perhaps 120,000 years ago. They lived a hunter gatherer existence, with caring for the land the centre of their culture. And yet the British declared that Australia was terra nullius - a land without people - and used this lie to justify their takeover.
No wonder many of today's Aborigines call January 26 'Invasion Day' and commemorate it separately to celebrate their survival.
Kevin Rudd (aboved) , elected Australian Prime Minister thirteen months ago, does not want to change the date, even though one of his first acts in the job was to say 'sorry' to the Aboriginal people, a moment of intense healing for Aboriginal people and whites alike.
Personally, I feel pretty mixed up about Australia Day. We do have a pretty great nation now which is moving back to its traditional egalitarian values. And that is something to celebrate.
John Pilger, Australian journalist, internationally acclaimed and sometimes regarded as controversial, talks about these values in his book 'A Secret Country': 'One of our distinctions as Australians was that, unlike Britons with their walls of class and Americans with their vast disparities of wealth, we struck a fine balance between the needs of the community and the individual.
'We measured social progress, it was said, not so much in terms of productivity and "consumption" as by the well-being of the producers - all the producers, especially the providers of labour.'
For about ten years - during the time of the Howard Government - we seemed to move away from those values.
It is inconceivable to so many worldly people that the English Queen (although also known as Queen of Australia) is still our Head of State. We are now a confident multicultural people and the republican movement is gradually gaining strength, although mired in red tape.
I reckon the happy solution to the Australia Day date of celebration would come if we declared ourselves a republic and moved the celebration over to a new, neutral day. Then, we could all relate to a truly unified celebration.
To my mind in the past thirteen months there has been a big positive shift in Australia, despite the global economic crisis which is moving closer to us every day, to the extent that a recession is now regarded as almost inevitable.
The Rudd Government's inclusiveness and seeming transparency has already earned it much kudos, and many feel Australians are moving closer together again, away from the dog-eat-dog of the past few years. I believe that Sorry Day helped that no end as well.
There are other matters which the new Government has done which have brought more Australians together.
An Aboriginal woman Faith Bandler was awarded the nation's top honour this week for a lifetime of service to Aboriginal people. Ms Bandler also led the campaign surrounding the 1967 referendum which was to result in an astounding decision in which 90 percent of the Australian electorate agreed to a proposal to give Aborigines a vote. It had only taken 179 years since the dispossession began.
Th new government is dismantling the terrible refugee detention centres - a plus so far as the migrant community is concerned.
And we have our first female Deputy Prime Minister whe less than a month after the election served as Prime Minister herself when Kevin Rudd was in Bali for the global climate change meeting. Julia Gillard (above) is a single woman, a lawyer and a determined red head with a great sense of humour.
She has the astounding job title of Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister fo Social Inclusion.
Such a huge job!
There are many more women in parliament, with ministerial positions.
And then, of course, we have our first ever female Governor General, the Queen's representative, Ms Quentin Bryce AC.
Her Excellency is a 65 years-old mother of five, with five grandchildren.
In practice, the Governor-General follows the conventions of the Westminster system of parliament and acts only on the advice of the Prime Minister of Australia. However, there have been four exceptions to this, including when Governor-General John Kerr exercised the reserve powers of his office in 1975 to sack the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam - a decision that rocked the nation.
Quentin Bryce is a lawyer and academic who has held senior public office, including Governor of Queensland.
She is a feminist and former Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner.
Australia's first female Governor-General says her appointment sends a message to all girls: 'You can do anything; you can be anything.'
I have never seen so many Australian flags as I saw yesterday, Australia Day.
They were everywhere - on flag poles, on cars, draped around young people's bodies, made into hats and shirts, skirts and pants.
The Aussie flag (above) carries the Union Jack in the left hand corner, attesting to the connection with Briton. The seven pointed star below the Union Flag represents the states, and the group of stars on the right signify the Southern Cross, a prominent constellation in the southern sky.
To me, people seemed to be more enthusiastic about the celebration this year than ever in my experience.
Mind you we celebrated much in the same way as we do on any long week-end - by going to the beach, and with outdoor concerts and barbecues.
I noticed that my local supermarket stocked a huge array of Aussie Day gear last week which, by yesterday, was sold out.
Someone even draped the local beachside free gas barbecue with red white and blue streamers and flags.
There were more sedate picnics in the shade of large native trees in a local park ...
This little guy battled with his flag ...
And this BIG guy's traditional 'Esky' doubled as a seat as he waited for mates to arrive. The box would have been filled with ice and what we call 'coldies'.
This was one tribute to Australia Day ...
And here is another.
This is public art in a park in Tweed Heads, just inside the New South Wales border, in Australia, where most of these pictures were taken.
It depicts in bronze a group of little children looking lovingly at their nation's flag.
It will be interesting indeed to see where the conversation about the Republic, the design of a future flag, and Australia Day will lead us in the next few years.
I'd really like to know what everyone thinks about this. Particularly my fellow Aussies. Let's start a conversation ...