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.