“It’s not about [Captain Arthur] Phillip landing in Sydney. It’s about the way we’ve grown firstly into a federation, but … a country of incredible people.
“The colour of our skin did matter once, but it doesn’t anymore. It’s about a society that has many hues of colour.”
Cautious about engaging in the culture war that has increasingly plagued the occasion, Mr Wyatt said the day was an opportunity for Australians of all backgrounds to bond as a nation but also acknowledge that many First Nations people found it difficult.
He said “first and foremost” it was a day to celebrate “the good things in life” with family, friends and community and respect each other’s contribution to the nation.
“Forget the date. Let’s celebrate what we have. Let’s celebrate our place as Indigenous Australians in Australian society. And let’s celebrate our achievements, our resilience, and the contribution that we are now making to broader Australian society,” he said.
Mr Wyatt, who is the first Indigenous man to be Minister for Indigenous Australians, said instead of rallying to move the date, Australians must engage in a new generation of “truth telling”.
He said monuments such as the one erected at Myall Creek marking one of the darkest events in Australia’s colonial history were a positive step forward.
“Aboriginal and non Aboriginal people came together, acknowledged their past history of an event that left a deep scar.”
He said if that could be replicated across our nation, including the dual naming of towns and regions, it would be “an incredible step forward”.
“There is much to celebrate, there is much to remember, [but] let’s take the positive aspects of life,” Mr Wyatt said.
He said he knew some Indigenous leaders would be “disappointed” with his “optimism”.
“I think it is more important that if we want to change the future, that we have to be at the forefront of wanting those changes, because we see the benefits that will be derived from it,” he said.
“What I love about the generation of young people coming through now is that they are optimistic. They see an incredible future ahead of themselves.”
Mr Wyatt said First Australians were entitled to be angry at the past and conceded the 1950s Australia he grew up in was not a place he liked.
“What I like now is the Australia that I see today,” he said.
“We’ve merged so many cultures and so many practices and different ways. What I like also is the way in which Indigenous culture and our history is being accepted readily into the Australian psyche.”
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra