Whilst the rest of the world relaxes on their Boxing Day holiday, South Australians commemorate Proclamation Day. On the 28th of December 1836, after circumnavigating the globe on HMS Buffalo, the first Governor issued King William’s proclamation of the new colony in a place now known as the Old Gum Tree, a colony not of convicts but of free men and women.
Today, on its 179th anniversary, the original words are read by South Australia’s 35th Governor, former refugee, His Excellency Hieu Van Le. The words may be archaic and the sentiment behind them patronising to modern ears, but for the time they were remarkably egalitarian, offering the pioneers greater freedoms and political rights than many would have enjoyed back in Great Britain where, despite the Great Reform Act, only the rich could vote. Also surprising for the times, if clumsily worded, was the consideration of the “natives”, an early recognition, however aspirational or notional, of aboriginal rights.
In the ensuing 179 years that spirit of tolerance and enlightenment has put South Australia in the vanguard of social progression, not just leading the other states of Australia but internationally. As the Governor pointed out in his vice-regal address, modern day South Australia retains these qualities, serving as a model of multi-culturalism. As if to make that point themselves, the customary Aboriginal rights protesters conducted their silent demonstration with restraint, dignity and even a sense of cooperation and participation.
Meanwhile Glenelg’s other Proccie Day events on water and land- the Bay Sports Festival, the Bay Sheffield foot races, the beach, and commercial leisure activities were in full swing- their participants no doubt grateful for the day off, but perhaps less aware of the historical and cultural significance of this unique holiday. Mind you I’d prefer it if the government gave us Boxing Day and Proclamation Day holidays. That would clear up confusion about both the nature and the date of either.