Saturday, 26 January 2008

Australia Day

National Aboriginal Day of Mourning, January 26, 1938. On the right is my grandfather, my grandmother with children, including my father.

It's January 26 - Australia Day.

It's a great idea, but I've never been able to celebrate it given its particular timing. That lack of enthusiasm for the day is a fact that sometimes many people find hard to accept and have sometimes been somewhat aggressive in addressing. I can understand that, and I appreciate that the day holds great meaning for the majority of Australians, but at the same time I wonder why there is not much tolerance for differing views? I don't expect others to embrace my stance, but I do believe that the logic behind it if heard out is worthy at least of some tolerance if not understanding.

Unlike in most other countries Australia's national day of celebration is not held on the day of its founding, rather it celebrates the founding of a penal colony (New South Wales) in January 1788. The colony is one that in practice encapsulated the eastern half of the Australian continent. The colony eventually went on to be sub divided into several further colonies (Tasmania nee Van Diemen's Land, Queensland nee Moreton Bay, New South Wales and Victoria nee Port Phillip) which finally reunited as a nation and Commonwealth on January 1901.

So why isn't January 1 considered as a more appropriate day for celebration? Well the obvious answer is that Australia historically has been an Anglo Celtic dominated nation, and quite rightly their descendants (myself included) take pride in how they have helped shape this country. But Australia is a multicultural nation, with a history that has been shaped as much by the many other waves of immigrants that have come to these shores, those that have no ties to New South Wales or its colonial and penal history. What interest is there for the 60,000 years of history that Indigenous Australia brings to the table on this date?

When this subject is raised it invariably is seen as an attack by an Aboriginal person who refuses to let go of the past and embrace being Australian, when the reality is closer to the opposite. The injustices of the past committed against Aboriginal Australia are important to remember, but they don't figure too greatly in this particular view point that I hold. Even so, I find it offensive when issues such as the Stolen Generations are trivialised in such a debate or argument, given that no Aboriginal person alive today has not been adversely affected by such government policy. If not directly, then through the trauma wrought upon mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins and kin. I personally check all of the above boxes save for my mother.

I have ancestors that arrived in Australia on the first convict fleet. I also have ancestors that were already here. For the latter people the arrival of the first fleet was not a positive, whilst later developments in European and Aboriginal relations were.

Australia Day should be a day for all Australians to celebrate, and I believe it should have as much meaning to the average Vietnamese or Italian immigrant or Aboriginal person as it does to a 6th generation Australian of English or Irish convict stock, and not via acceptance of the status quo, but through looking to be truly inclusive and respectful. The arrival of the first fleet and the founding of New South Wales should of course be marked on this day and celebrated in its own right, and aimed at those whom it is relevant to.

To those of you celebrating the day, I hope you have a great time, but forgive those of us whose views may differ to yours without aiming to insult your own views.

No comments: