United in Celebration?

Financial security is only one of the difficulties faced by the NADC over its thirty-year history to date. A more prominent challenge has been promoting unified national celebrations in the face of often-divisive political debates about the Australian nation. The NADC’s theme for Australia Day in 1981 was ‘One Nation – One Future’: it was an aspirational sentiment, as the country was divided on many of its national symbols, including the national anthem, the monarchy and the flag. In its early years the NADC focussed strongly on the theme of multiculturalism, striving to find unity between all Australians on a day that primarily drew attention to Australia’s British heritage. When the Bicentenary exposed (among other things) Australia’s fraught relationship with its Aboriginal population, the date of Australia Day again faced scrutiny. Furthermore, the NADC was unable to ignore both the growing republican movement and repeated calls to change the national flag. In 1991 the chairman John Newcombe wrote to his National Director on the issue of the republic: ‘I do think the NADC should have some opinion as to where we stand ‘as a body’ regarding what will be an ongoing debate for the next ten years.’

While Newcombe struggled to find a consensus on the NADC board, his successor Phillip Adams had a clear agenda and was more provocative. One of his first actions as Chairman was to redesign the Australia Day logo, which created a mini controversy because the Australian flag was removed in the process.44 The new logo featured a hand reaching for a star and was symbolic of Adams’ aspirational approach to nation building. There was a strong sense of the type of nationalism the NADC was trying to promote under Phillip Adams: it was multicultural, reconciled with the Aborigines and tolerant. The republic was not mentioned specifically, but it was clearly on the agenda. Adams lobbied for the NADC to take on responsibility for the Centenary of Federation celebrations; he hoped that on 1 January 2001 Australia would become a republic and New Year’s Day would replace 26 January as the focal point for national celebration.45 Under Phillip Adams the NADC chose an Aboriginal singer, an environmentalist (who was also an ‘avowed republican’),46 a leading Australian artist and a Chinese-Australian paediatrician. The winners of the Australian of the Year award thus reflected the politics of the time.