Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Australia Day

It's the day after Australia Day

Australia Day 26th January is the Anniversary date for the arrival at Port Jackson of the 'First Fleet' of ships sent from Britain to start the New South Wales colony. Of course at that time each of the colonies identified as quite separate entities which later grew into independent states each with their own relationship to the Mother Country, England. I don't believe 'Australia Day' was officially adopted as a National day of celebration until 1935.

According to the resources in the National Australia Day Council website Australian's first made a big deal about the Anniversary of British Colonization of Australia back in 1938 (The 150 year anniversary) 
Then there was the 1988 Bicentenary reenactment of the first fleets arrival. It was an absolutely spectacular event. I was spellbound by the sight of all those yachts on the ocean making their way to Australia (On TV, but some also visited Port Philip Bay where they sailed majestically past our camp at St Leonards). The romance of the sea is infectious but as the ships were on their way another story was emerging... Indigenous people from all over the country were mobilizing for a mass protest at their arrival.

I was 18, everyone was so excited but the whole event had an undertone of shame that would not be silenced. What a time to be Australian! Two worlds colliding! Australia hadn't really settled into being a multicultural society and I am sure many Australian's hadn't truly considered the implications of what they were celebrating, the invasion of a sovereign land resulting in the displacement  and deaths of 1,000s! As the protesters spoke out prior to the arrival of the ships I began to imagine what those ships must have looked like to the first people living around Sydney Harbor back in 1788 and what the colony meant to them. When the ships sailed into Sydney harbor I was no longer excited to see the boats, I began to feel a much closer affinity for the people whose lives were destroyed by their arrival. I empathized with the 1,000s of Aboriginal protesters for whom the whole event had a much deeper and more painful significance. I wondered how 'White Australia' could so callously perform such a reenactment without including some kind of treaty or attempt to make some kind of amends to the Aboriginal People... Otherwise the whole thing would amount to nothing more than one more kick in the teeth for Aboriginal people...  

We had an opportunity back then to change the meaning of that date and to make it a day for all Australian's. As a nation we chose to put on our boots, fire up the barbie and complain about the winging blacks for spoiling our bonza party.

So what does this day actually mean to Australians? I really don't know. I see a bunch of people driving around in utes, or dancing around full of piss draped in the Australian flag (Which although I'd like to see it changed I still find this a disrespectful thing to do), burning meat out doors etc...  Besides the loud but possibly few true believers I reckon it's a day which is quickly fading into obsolescence. The day a bunch of British colonists and convicts from England landed on the shores of a beach stuck up a flag and declared it and everything on it the property of England is not something that inspires National Unity for a country as diverse as Australia. For many Aboriginal Australian's this day is viewed as an obscene celebration of the theft of their land and all the atrocities that went along with it. It is a day often referred to as 'Survival Day' or 'Invasion Day', not a good foundation for creating national unity and we missed the opportunity for an act of reconciliation.

Personally I have no idea why, if we have to be Nationalistic, we can't come up with a day which is more valid to symbolize our unity... Or maybe we haven't done anything worthy of such a day? I dunno? Maybe?

Either way if I were a Patriot I doubt I would find much inspiring about the day currently celebrated as our 'National Day'. Although there are many people who love to get out and run around with their flags waving I doubt the events of this date have any real relevance to Contemporary Australians and I'm sure most of them wouldn't suffer too much if a new National Day were invented.

OK... Now I don't want to get into an ideological argument or cause any offense to those who are  committed to the 26th January, the point I wanted to make was mostly visual.

Here's something to think about. On the day when we're all supposed to be out having BBQ sausages with sauce and drinking beer out of Australian flag stubby coolers.....

many many many packets of sausages marked down to 1/2 price coz nobody bought them

Why is the supermarket full of marked down snaggs? If we were truly committed to our National Day surely the sausages would have sold out.

Is it possible we're finally ready to re-think what it means to be Australian and find new ways to celebrate? 

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