I’ve been questioning how I feel about Australia Day. Have you?
The day before and after 26 January is more Australian to me than the day we have all been forced to give thanks for the privilege of calling this ancient island our home, or risk being seen as unAustralian.
Being Australian is a feeling, and I’m not feeling it as authentically as I’d like on this ‘gazetted’ day. All the other days are fine.
Why? Because it’s become a nationalistic circus that may as well be Valentine’s Day or St Patrick’s Day or some other meaningless consumer-focused pissant excuse for celebration.
And that’s the word I can’t reconcile – celebration. Australia Day is not a celebration, but they keep forcing us to see it that way.
It is a commemoration of our history, an acceptance of it, a recognition of its ongoing affects, the successes we’ve had in addressing the hangovers and what is still to be achieved in our evolution as a lucky country for everyone, not just the privileged, blinkered few.
If there is anything to celebrate at all, it’s the outstanding survival of our Aboriginal people, against all the odds. Now that is something to be proud of, and probably even deserves its own day, but that’s a blog for another time.
At this point, I must say that I also reject the notion of a combative ‘invasion day’ stance. Clearly, this and any aggro, does nothing for atonement, forgiveness or positive progress.
I believe the culture and main messages around Australia Day must change to force growth and a more mature attitude around our identity. 26 January is a fact we can’t and shouldn’t ignore. It crystallises the moment Australia changed from how it was for 60,000+ years to how it’s been for the past 231. As we painfully know, this date is not one of celebration for Aboriginal Australians, and therefore neither should it be for us.
It should be a day of reverence, thanks, contrition, reflection, growth and a commitment to do better than what was inflicted on this nation on 26 January 1788. Not one where we arrogantly thank our lucky stars with shameless millions spent on fireworks that fail to mask the ills of what is really going on in this country – the ongoing pretence that we have said sorry, that we collectively mean it, look at all the wonderful things we’ve achieved in its name, so stop your whining and have a beer/cerveza/craft brew-shandy/cider/charddy-snag/lamb chop/lamb cutlet.
Like Anzac Day, there should be community events (a humble but dignified group hug, if you will), deep reflection, a feeling of optimism for what we’ve achieved and will continue to, all imbued with that easy dry Australian good humour.
Not a glorified ‘look at how fantastic we are now’ opportunity to show-off to the rest of the world. At the moment, Australia Day doesn’t feel like it’s for all of us – it feels like an empty, going through the motion for the benefit of onlookers. Maybe aliens? I’m pretty sure even they are aware that Australia has a black history.
Like Melbourne Cup Day, I’ve decided to disown it. Last year I said #nuptothecup. I don’t identify with anything to do with Melbourne Cup Day – the animal racing for human gain/entertainment, the animal cruelty, the gambling, the incessant focus on women’s fashion (if I see another cliche ‘fillies on the field’ headline, I’ll scream).
This year, I’m saying #AusDayNotThisWay. Parties are great, but nup, not the super-sized national inauthenticity that we are guilted into embracing.
Make no mistake, I love the quality family and friend time, spent at these events, the micro love happening with our nearest and dearest. But I’m wondering how many grown ups take it upon themselves to let our kids know why we have gathered, why we’re having a barbie, watching 30 minutes of self-indulgent fireworks. Are we telling our kids that were celebrating the dispossession of an entire nation? No, there’s a lot of glossing over the facts going on, if not the complete ignorance of it.
And here’s the rub – it’s not the date I have a problem with. Well, yes, there is the very obvious problem of what happened on 26 January … and the decades of heartache wrenched upon Aboriginal Australia ever since. I have a problem with that.
But I think we need this date in our faces to remember that very pivotal and sobering moment in our history. A history that bleeds into what happens in Australian society today. This is why Australia Day (on any date) is not a celebration – it’s a commemoration, a remembrance, an act of respect, a commitment to do better, a recognition of the good that has been done and how we are changing our culture to be more honest and compassionate. I’m not going to apologise for the repetition, here.
Move that date and we are conveniently sweeping the reality of what it will forever mean for this country, neatly under the shag pile. Honestly, I can’t understand why the right wingers aren’t already cynically campaigning for a new date.
So what happened to irrevocably change the course of early history on this continent 231 years ago on 26 January, 1788?
According to the National Australia Day Council:
Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the First Fleet of eleven convict ships from Great Britain, and the first Governor of New South Wales, arrived at Sydney Cove on 26 January and raised the Union Jack to signal the beginning of the colony. Source: https://www.australiaday.org.au/about-australia-day/history/
Of course, we all know this is bland speak for the systematic invasion of the island nation already governed and cared for, for 60,000+ years by countless peaceful first nation Aboriginal communities.
Federation followed on 1 January 1901, the invasion continuing with Aboriginals not recognised federally in any form, only on a state by state basis as a burden to be managed, not to whom rights or recognition were asserted.
In 1962, the Commonwealth Electoral Act was amended so that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people could vote. Source: https://www.civicsandcitizenship.edu.au/cce/ad4_what_rights_did_aboriginal_people_have_between,9589.html
Aboriginals were recognised in the Australian constitution via the 1967 Referendum which gave Commonwealth permission for Aboriginal people to officially be counted in a Census, finally making them federally visible – 179 years after the invasion.
An invasion that was plotted well before 22 August 1770 when Captain James Cook first raised the Union Jack on Possession Island, Sydney, claiming the eastern half of the continent for Great Britain.
Staying with 26 January is the only fair conclusion I can come to right now. I know this is a painful day for our first nation peoples but we can’t afford to forget the harrowing reality of what this has meant to the shaping of our nation and its indisputable role as a safe haven for boat people ever since, even if they were government-sanctioned to provide labour and grow the population of a fledgling colony. Which we remain – there’s no Republic here or on the horizon. We’ve got some serious maturing to do before that can even be considered via a credible nationwide discussion.
I’m also not in favour of referendums of any size asking people if we should or shouldn’t commemorate Australia Day on 26 January. This is a free ride for the polarising, potentially hateful re-eruption of the us and them mindset championed by the likes of those who really are Pauline Hanson in disguise.
And you don’t have to scratch too deep to identify that cohort. They are rife on countless community Facebook chat groups where true colours are on display faster than a threatened blue ring octopus. That’s the only place they deserve to be. Sadly, unless they read more widely and critically assess other perspectives, their narrow mindsets will remain frozen in time.