My rant about Australia Day

I guess this piece will be one of hundreds from us Aussies, reflecting on this, our “most special of days”. But I feel like I want to write it out, so I can properly understand my thoughts on it all.

So, on 26th January 1788, 11 ships – loaded with English convicts, military, and a few free settlers, arrived at a part of Sydney now known as Botany Bay. This was the First Fleet, and it marked the beginning of the colonisation of Australia by the British.

There was, of course, a native population. Indigenous peoples that had a curious (ethnocentrically speaking) way of living. They were grouped into many different and linguistically unique “nations”, had little concept of notions like property and possessions, no understanding of western ideas of individualism, and lacked awareness of agriculture and cultivation.

To the arriving colonists and convicts, these people were savages; and although at first, efforts were made to establish a simpatico relationship, as the months became years, the years flowed into decades, and the decades bled into centuries, the treatment of Australia’s first peoples has been typified by slaughter, kidnapping, cultural genocide, land misappropriation, and racist policy.

Because the transgressions are so many, the subjugation so prolonged, it has been common to cite the day of arrival – of invasion – as the day that symbolises when all the shit began hitting the proverbial fan. It has led to a call by many for the 26th of January to be observed as a national day of mourning, a chance to to not celebrate our achievements, but to reflect on our past wrongs. To focus not on national pride, but rather national reconciliation.

I couldn’t agree more.

This is not to say that there is not a lot to be proud of and celebrate. There absolutely is. I love my country. I love living here, and (most of the time) I love calling myself an Australian. But my pride is not unconditional, and it is certainly not blind to the facts of our history, and the realities of our present.

Our understanding and attitudes towards Indigenous people are still quite paternalistic at best, and downright racist at worst. I am not going to lay all blame for all of Australia’s wrongs at the feet of white Australia. I find that view narrow-minded and failing at balanced judgement. But what I will argue, is that it seems rather incongruous with our national qualities of egalitarianism and mateship to celebrate a day that to a section of our communities, represents the beginning of the dissolution of their way of life.

It is also the very meaning of irony, that a day intended to bring all of us together with a shared sense of national pride in the fact that we are all Australian, essentially distances the First Australians.

Calls for our national day of celebration to be moved to a different date are on the money. Such proposals are often misunderstood – or have their intentions bastardised – and interpreted to mean that we should not be proud of our heritage and our country. This is a furphy. We need an Australia Day. We deserve a day off. It is essential for us to celebrate our nationality and be thankful for living in a country, which – on a comparative international scale – is pretty fucking good. But why 26th January?

For as many years as I can remember, my Australia Day has been the last Saturday in September. (For any non-Melbournians or people with no taste in sport, this is the day of the AFL Grand Final.) Nothing makes me prouder than watching the year’s best teams playing the greatest sport in the world. It’s a day when I get together with my mates, drink a lot of beer, cheer, high-five, and get really, really excited.

I can understand that heaps of people couldn’t give a rats about footy, and I’m not seriously suggesting that this become our national holiday. It’s a Saturday after all; I don’t want to miss out on a day off. But it does highlight the bloody obvious fact that patriotic celebrations are not eternally linked to any certain date. There is nothing we do on 26th January that cannot also be done on a different day. We can still eat lamb, drink beer, and listen to Triple J count down the 100 most overrated songs of the previous year on any day of the calendar. It needn’t be a day that is so hurtful to Indigenous Australians.

So today, as on other Australia Days, I will take the time to reflect on how much further we have to go as a nation to repairing the cultural rifts that still fracture our communities. I will not think about what it means to be Australian; I’ll save that for another day. For to do it today, on the 26th of January, would force me to conclude that being an Australian means taking what I want and doing what I want, no matter who gets hurt. It means encroaching onto land already occupied, and then designating it free land. It means assigning an intrinsic value to a people that places them on the same level as koalas and bottlebrush. It means having such an extreme sense of ethnocentrism, that I would kidnap children from their parents, under the ruse of offering them a better life. I don’t want to celebrate these things. I want to mourn them. I want to be sorry for them.

I am proud to be an Australian. But not today.

Carn the Bombers.

And that’s what I think about that. Thanks for reading.

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9 comments on “My rant about Australia Day

  1. I concur Sam! well said

  2. Perrin says:

    The biggest issue is what other date. The only truly Australia-wide day of the year would be the day of Federation. But that was on an unfortunately short sighted date of 1 January. Not exactly an option for Australia Day. There’ll never be acceptance if there isn’t significance and there’d be more trouble if you were to co-opt something like ANZAC day (not to mention the Kiwi’s might be a little miffed).

    Also, if you were to use the footy, it should be a week earlier when the NRL Grand Final is right? That’s the ‘correct’ one. :-p

    • Sam Loy says:

      Yeah, that’s a good point. It’s been suggested that a treaty be signed between the government and Indigenous leaders and then that day be celebrated. Although I think we are so multicultural, that that day may not be significant enough for everyone, being as it is between “white” Australia and ATSI peoples. I think once we make the inevitable switch to a republic, then that day would be perfect. Certainly wouldn’t agree with using ANZAC Day, which already exists as a huge national day anyway.
      Thanks for your comments, although your taste in sport leaves a lot to be desired. 🙂

  3. mattheffernan says:

    Great rant, thank you. Also as a fellow Dudeist I think we’re going to get along well “Fucking aye”

    You abide.

  4. great piece of writing…being a non-indigenous non-Anglo person living in Australia, I don’t see what would be wrong with the government and the Indigenous Australians signing a treaty and then celebrating the day because after all, this did start between white and Aboriginal but more than that, the government today does not represent on group of people but all cultures in Australia. I also don’t see why moving the date to a date with apparently no significance. That would be better than celebrating a day when so many things went wrong…and the new day would be a celebration of unity…

  5. Didion says:

    I love the way your feelings about Australia Day resemble my feelings about the Fourth of July — the ambivalence is so profound. Lovely piece, Sam — thank you.

  6. Anon says:

    The majority of Aborigines alive now were born after 1980 – they know of no other culture or society but the one we all live in – modern Australia.

    No Aborigine alive today “lost something” culturally – they are very much enmeshed in the wider culture, with no demarcation date of European arrival in their own lives.

  7. It’s very easy to be lulled into a deep sense of hopelessness, despondency and depression about the condition of this land, trolling back in its’ history – even surveying current conditions for that matter via the media’s “obsessions”.

    We must learn from our mistakes and pick ourselves off the carpet so to speak. – I have posted bit on Australian Welfare Reform which touches on parts of our failing social fabric. I would love hear your thoughts Sam.

    Isn’t most of recorded human history a bit like today’s news feed.
    Only the dramatic and tragic get’s much of a mention. If thinks are working well, meh… that’s not news worthy! Now go back out there and get me some real stories…

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