Australia Day

26 Jan

I don’t mind the concept of an Australia Day. However, I don’t like where it has gone in the 21st Century. It’s become narrow minded, bigoted, racist, divisive, feel-good propaganda, and is rife with intolerance. I suppose, if I’m honest, I have a decent dose of intolerance myself on 26th January.

For one, I deplore the flag. The southern cross and the Federation Star are good, and the blue is good. The first thing I don’t like about the flag is the Union Jack. It should not be there. We aren’t a colonial corner of the British Empire. Once we were. Now, there isn’t really a British Empire, let alone an Australian colony. It’s not our history. It’s part of our history, but Australia is far more than a penal settlement nowadays. It’s also an insult to the people who lived here for 40,000 years before Britain settled. There is still so much to be worked out and accomplished in respect of the first inhabitants.

In this day and age, we aren’t mostly British stock either. Our diversity is broad, many, and if we hope to bring all to the same table, that table being Australia, we need to start reflecting who we are not who we briefly were or wish we had been.

The second thing I deplore about the flag is the darker tone than it ever had prior to the first decade of this century. Now it is ubiquitously draped and flown and ferried and painted; it adorns all types of clothing, vehicles, paraphernalia, even food; and most of it commercially driven. If I walk into a shop leading up to Australia Day, I will be assailed with the flag in every guise imaginable, from an eraser to a bottle of sauce and everything in between. It’s nauseating. And if I ask for an Indigenous flag, I get blank looks, shrugs, Ah, no, sorry, even a pitying look.

The really dark tone, however, is the attitude that too often accompanies the wearing and flying and ferrying and draping and adorning. Such patriotism is exclusionary; very much a ‘you’re either with us or you’re against us’ statement. Admittedly, this isn’t always the intention nor the outcome, however, it is there, inherent and too often deliberate. 

Then, there’s the date. Why the 26th January? After all, no matter what side of the story you come down on, it is the day Britain landed and took up colonial residence. Terra Nullius. Well, we all know it wasn’t an empty land. There were people living here. They’d been living here for 40,000 years. No, they didn’t build cities, or machines other than basic tools, and they didn’t build ships big enough to sail around the world. But they did have their own culture, history, lifestyle, lives. They did occupy the land. And they knew how to live on it and from it. Something ‘we’ are still learning how to do today. They were and are the First Nations, and ‘we’ still know so little and have so much still to learn.

It took until 1967 before the Referendum which gave the first peoples ‘people’ status as opposed to ‘animal’ status. That says far more about ‘us’ than it does ‘them’ and none of it good.

The day of the Referendum was 27th May. That’s the day we should celebrate Australia Day because it is a day we did something really good, something right, a truly decent act. We took our first step of recognising that the first peoples of Australia are just that, The First Peoples. We have taken some terrible steps since; we go on taking terrible steps, big and small, but 27th May 1967 is a day we should really recognise as a beginning, one we can take strength and courage from, one we can take unity from, and most of all, one we can take pride from because we actually stood up and said, ‘Enough. These are not animals. These are people. Just like us.’

Yes, we are all people. All people of this land. There might be some of the original peoples who would like ‘us’ gone. We all know that isn’t going to happen. There are those of ‘us’ who still want the original peoples gone. That is never going to happen. We are all here. We are all staying. A real Australia, and a real honouring day for Australia, must and can only truly be a day where we go forward together: the same people although different. That’s where our true strength, our true heart and our true hope comes from.

There is much ugliness on 26th January, especially in the last decade or so, since the time of the ‘black arm band view of history’ days. There has been much racism and ugliness recently, especially since 2001. It is time to grow up, Australia, and then we will have something really worth celebrating. Together.

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